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Parasha Ki Tavo – Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on August 29, 2007

Blessings and Curses – the course of Action and Consequences

Focal Point: Devarim 26:12; 27:26; 28:2-6

“When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield — in the third year, the year of the tithe — and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements…

Cursed be he who will not uphold the terms of this Teaching and observe them. — And all the people shall say, Amen.

All these blessings shall come upon you and take effect, if you will but heed the word of the Lord your God:

Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the issue of your womb, the produce of your soil, and the offspring of your cattle, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings.”

I am going to continue on the idea of the not so obvious matters. This Parasha starts with the command to offer First Fruits, and then it moves on to Tithing. Tithing in Torah is a simple Tax collection system that is supposed to guarantee that the entire People have what they need for their daily lives, regardless of what they can or cannot accomplish within the Community.

This Parasha seems to be almost a continuation directly from Parasha Re’eh. In Devarim 15 Torah states some rather contradictory things about the poor and needy – Devarim 15:4, 7, 11:

There shall be no needy among you — since the Lord your God will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion”

If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.”

For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.”

How’s this possible? The answer lies in the conditional nature of Blessings and Curses, Action and Consequences.

Devarim 15:4 is the Ideal – it is based on the condition that The People of Israel indeed do Observe Torah to a tee.

Devarim 15:7 acknowledges the possibility that the Ideal is not going to be prevalent, and commands the proper attitude in the face of the “less than ideal”. If we fail at the provisions in Devarim 15:4, it can still be amended, through an attitude adjustment.

Devarim 15:11 accepts the fact that we are going to “miss the target” and commands the proper action in the face of this reality. If the attitude adjustment fails – then we need to take direct action and act regardless of the attitude.

It is this reality that Parasha Ki Tavo picks up and makes provisions for – The Tithe.

Another point here, before I move on to the less obvious matters, is within Devarim 15:11 – Torah tells us to be prepared for the reality of different people being in need of assistance at different times, and that those in need will not always be in the same kind of need. It also taps into the idea that a Society needs to take into account the cost of being a Society – we need to be financially responsible as a Society and make provisions for the needs of Society as such. There will always be a need for Societal finances.

But what about those of us who do not generate financial means that can be tithed? Well, I sort of think that Tithing doesn’t just cover our money. I think it covers ALL our resources, all that we are. So I need to give a tenth of my time, a tenth of my attention, a tenth of all my resources, a tenth of that which is not material, just like Parasha Ki Teitzei commands me to return anything lost to its proper owner, including a Lost Faith. We so often think in material terms, and disregard the power of immaterial things, love, attention, faith, care, art, music, unique skills, teaching etc as something there might be a need for.

Ok, on to the Blessings and Curses. We usually think of the Blessings as the norm, which is why we mention the Blessings first in common interactions. We never ask people to count their curses, though we might benefit from doing that too, to get an idea of just how much we are off target, as a way to take stock of ourselves on a regular basis. Torah has it the other way around. Torah assumes that we will fail at living up to it’s demands, and warns against it by mentioning the Curses first. In a way Torah thinks of the Curses as the norm. Why warn against something it assumes we will do anyway? To get our attention. To shake us up and make us mindful of our own actions, so we don’t go about life unaware of the impact we have on ourselves and others. Torah wants to make sure that we realize that we are not islands, isolated from each other or indeed ourselves.

Parasha Ki Tavo is a tough Parasha. But I rather like to think of it in terms of “for every action there is an equal re-action” – what I do has consequences. Good and Bad. It’s the Spiritual equivalent of Newton’s Third Law: All forces occur in pairs, and these two forces are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.

Cool, isn’t it – Torah applied the Laws of Physics… long before they were common knowledge 🙂

Torah consider action and re-action to be a natural law – do we?

Shabbat Shalom!

This article, including artworks and photos in this Blog is Copyright © Henric C. Jensen aka Shadow Bear/Silly Old Bear and are NOT public domain – unless otherwise specified.


2 Responses to “Parasha Ki Tavo – Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8”

  1. yaelbatsarah said

    I still like this parasha. This was the parasha just before my conversion when Rabbi spoke about the value of converts and this was the parasha last year for my Bat Mitzvah.

    Blessings and curses, two mountains. I liked the image Rabbi gave once. Blessings and curses are sometimes only perception. If we look one way we see blessings, if we look another we see curses. It’s up to us how we want to look at things. Another way to look at balance perhaps?


  2. balance – yeah – I like that picture. It fits.


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