Parashat Ki tavo
September 23-24, 2016 – 21 Elul 5776
Annual (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8): Etz Hayim p. 1140; Hertz p. 859
Triennial (Deuteronomy 27:11-29:8): Etz Hayim p. 1130; Hertz p. 864
Haftarah (Isaiah 60:1-22): Etz Hayim p. 1161; Hertz p. 874

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Public and Private Deviance
Rabbi Joel Levy, Rosh Yeshiva, Conservative Yeshiva

In Deuteronomy chapter 27 Moses describes an elaborate ceremony that the Israelites will enact soon after crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. As part of the ceremony a formal list of curses will be written on stones and declared from a local hilltop. There are twelves curses laid out in verses 15-26. In each case the declaration of the curse is followed by a public shout of consent, “Amen!”

  1. Cursed be the man who makes an engraved or molten image…
    and sets it up in secret…
  2. Cursed be he who dishonors his father or his mother…
  3. Cursed be he who removes his neighbor’s landmark…
  4. Cursed be he who makes the blind to wander out of the way…
  5. Cursed be he who perverts the judgment of the stranger,
    orphan, and widow…
  6. Cursed be he who lies with his father’s wife…
  7. Cursed be he who lies with any kind of beast…
  8. Cursed be he who lies with his sister…
  9. Cursed be he who lies with his mother-in-law…
  10. Cursed be he who strikes his neighbor secretly…
  11. Cursed be he who takes a bribe to slay an innocent person…
  12. Cursed be he who does not maintain all the words of this Torah
    to do them…

Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, proposes, in his commentary on Deuteronomy 27:15 that the common denominator between these twelve cases is that they are all sins that are commonly performed in private and which are thus unlikely to be discovered. For Rashbam this whole infrastructure of curses only pertains to people’s private worlds of deviance and is meant to impact only upon private behavior. He refers us to a verse in next week’s parasha, Deuteronomy 29:28:

כח  הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד-עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת. 28 The secret things belong to the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

This famous verse, says Rashbam, teaches us that the curses were not required for public wrongdoing. Public sin is dealt with in pubic by the court system and by all too human punishments; “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever”. The ritualized curses are required to create a common consent to divine punishment in cases where sins are performed in private, beyond the scope of human courts: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God”.

The court system of any country can, by definition, only deal in the realm of what is revealed and can be proved. Courts cannot create private morality, only public obedience. Other mechanisms must be in place in every society to inculcate private piety rather than just public compliance.

For Rashbam a person is only truly cursed by God if they lead a life of obedience to external norms, allowing communal pressure to dictate public behavior, but do not internalize values to the extent that private behavior is also affected. Or to put it differently, is it not a curse if we draw no existential sustenance from this tradition but only a series of superficial behavioral norms? Is Judaism a form of curse when we fail to allow it to penetrate into our private places?

A Vort for Parashat Ki tetse
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Verse 28:13 tells us that God will make us “the head, not the tail,” an apparent repetition – if we are to be the “head,” why mention the “tail”?  The Oheiv Yisrael, R’Avraham Yehoshua Heshel (1748-1825, Poland/Ukraine, the Apter Rebbe, and paternal great-great-grandfather of the late Prof. A.J Heschel) said that there people who are pleased to be “tails.” It can be easier, less challenging.  But, citing Rabbi Mattia bn Harash (Avot 4:20) “be a tail to lions rather than a head to foxes,” the Apter Rebbe tells us to “aim high,” for the rosh, the head; thus we will be pushed to advance ourselves in our learning and deeds.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

We are approaching the entry into the Land of Israel; the reality of ‘the day after’ is beginning to be felt. There is also an emphasis on a current The Covenant with God in the Land, a theme that will continue in the upcoming weeks

1) Once we are settled in the land we are commanded to bring the first of our fruits to the Place which God Chose (26:1-11). Why should we bring our first fruits to God?  Do you think that people were eager to do this or annoyed by it?  Why? (If you wish to see what a celebration this became, read chapter 3 of Tractate Bikurim in the Mishna.)

2) An owner of a field has to give a tithe (apparently, taxes are not a new idea) from his crop.  Who are the recipients of this tithe in the third year (26:12)? What is the purpose of this tithe? What does it tell you about the economic reality of these people?  What might have led them to such a situation?

3) Moshe instructs the people to put up great stones on which they will put plaster, when they enter the land (27:1-8).  What will they do with the plastered stones?  Why do you think that the people are instructed to do this?  When should they do this and why do you think that they should do it at that point?

4) Chapter 28 includes both rewards and punishments that will depend on our observance of the Mitzvot.  They are referred to as ‘the words of the covenant’ (28:69).  Why would a covenant include rewards and punishments?

5) Look at 28:4.  From what sphere are the blessings mentioned in the verse?  What do you think that it means to be blessed with those things? Do you think that there is any order in the list that appears in the verse?  If so, what is it?

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