Torah Weekly

For the week ending 5 September 2015 / 21 Elul 5775

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.


The Glittering Prizes

“Accursed is the man who will make a graven image… an abomination to G-d, a craftsman’s handiwork, and emplace it in secret…” (27:15)

The University of Oxford owns one of the most important collections of medieval Hebrew manuscripts in the world.

The Bodleian Library, established by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602, is filled with treasures, including the manuscript of a commentary on sections of the Mishna by the hand of the Rambam (Moses Maimonides) (1135-1204), the great medieval Jewish philosopher and rabbinic authority.

A friend of mine once traveled to the Bodleian library with a leading Israeli Torah scholar. As my friend had been a student at Oxford, he had privileged access to this priceless repository of original Jewish manuscripts. As they were shown the manuscript of the Rambam, the Torah scholar broke down in tears.

The treasures of Judaism have been captured and locked in the vaults of the non-Jewish world. What is left for the eye to see bears the bruises of millennia of exile, of one hurried exit from one country to the next. From the outside it looks a bit like a shabby and worn-out coat.

One of the marvels of Jewish scholarship is that profound and complex thought and discourse has taken place against a backdrop of near-continuous persecution and hardship. As Mark Twain once remarked, “He (the Jew) has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him.”

Throughout the ages it has been difficult for the battered Talmud to battle the blandishments of the gorgeous visuals and pristine shining philosophy of the ancient Greeks and their heirs. Many a Jew has found irresistible the glittering prizes of the secular world, aesthetically unscarred, unlike Jewish Culture which has had to limp through history.

But, however beautiful the surface of secular studies may be, you cannot hide the atheism at the root of much secular thought. A bitter pill to swallow for the Jew in whose heart beats, “G-d is One!”

“Accursed is the man who will make a graven image… an abomination to G-d, a craftsman’s handiwork, and emplace it in secret…”

There’s nothing worse than creating an idolatrous idea — a graven image — and couching it in high-falutin’ phrases — a craftsman’s handiwork — to make it sound sophisticated and cultured — to emplace in secret — and lure the Jewish heart to the glittering prizes of secularity and denial.

  • Sources: based on the Avnei Ezel in Mayana shel Torah

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