Torah Weekly

For the week ending 17 September 2011 / 17 Elul 5771

Parshat Ki Tavo

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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When Bnei Yisrael dwell in the Land of Israel, its first fruits are to be taken to the Temple and given to the kohen in a ceremony expressing recognition that it is G-d who guides the history of the Jewish People throughout all ages. This passage forms one of the central parts of the Haggadah that we read at the Passover Seder. On the last day of Pesach of the fourth and seventh years of the seven-year shemitta cycle, a person must recite a disclosure stating that he has indeed distributed the tithes to the appropriate people in the prescribed manner. With this mitzvah Moshe concludes the commandments that G-d has told him to give to the Jewish People. Moshe exhorts them to walk in G-d's ways, because they are set aside as a treasured people to G-d. When Bnei Yisrael cross the Jordan River they are to make a new commitment to the Torah. Huge stones are to be erected and the Torah is to be written on them in the world's seventy primary languages, after which they are to be covered over with a thin layer of plaster. Half the tribes will stand on Mount Gerizim, and half on Mount Eval, and the levi'im will stand in a valley between the two mountains. There the levi'im will recite 12 commandments and all the people will answer "amen" to the blessings and the curses. Moshe then details the blessings that will be bestowed upon Bnei Yisrael. These blessings are both physical and spiritual. However if the Jewish People do not keep the Torah, Moshe details a chilling picture of destruction, resulting in exile and wandering among the nations.


613 Problems

“…I have removed the holy things from the house…” (26:13)

We can keep the Torah in two different ways: We can fit the Torah into our lives, or we can fit our lives into the Torah.

The first way involves seeking out as many leniencies as possible so the mitzvot don’t interfere with our lives too much. Or we can look at the mitzvot as life itself – “For they are your life.”

Everyone would agree that the better we keep the mitzvot in this world, the bigger will be our share in the future world. That’s only fair. But the truth is that a person who fits his life into the mitzvot, rather than fits the mitzvot into his life, has it better not only over there but over here too.

The Talmud relates the following story: “Rabba bar Chana and Rebbe Yochanan taught in the name of Rebbe Yehuda bar Ilai: ‘Observe the difference between the former generations and ours! The former generations brought in their produce through the front gates because they wanted to separate the tithes, whereas the later generations brought their produce through the gardens, yards, and skylights that do not lead to the front of the house, in order to evade the obligation to give tithes. (A person need only tithe if the produce is brought through the front entrance.) What is the result? The produce is no longer blessed’.”

When the Jewish People deliberately obligated themselves to separate tithes by bringing the fruit in through the front entrance, they had a delicious aroma and succulent taste. However, when they avoided giving those tithes, even though what they did was perfectly legitimate, they diminished the taste of this world as well as the next.

You can look at the Torah as 613 problems or 613 ways to be connected to G-d. For nothing tastes as sweet as a mitzvah, neither in this next world nor in this one.

  • Source: Berachot 35; Midrash Hagadol 26:15

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