Torah Weekly

For the week ending 21 September 2019 / 21 Elul 5779

Parshat Ki Tavo

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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When the Jewish Peopledwell in the Land of Israel, the first fruits are to be taken to the Temple and given to thekohen in a ceremony expressing recognition that it is G-d who guides the history of the Jewish nation 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 the Jewish People transverse 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 theLevi'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 the Jewish People. 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.


Can’t Take My Eyes Off You

“And Hashem has distinguished you today…” (26:18)

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci has been called “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world." Like many examples of phenomenal success, such as the Beatles, critics and curators are at a loss to define exactly why the Mona Lisa has become the greatest icon of painting. Some say that it’s the way the Mona Lisa’s eyes follow you around the room. But that’s true of any portrait where the subject is looking directly at the viewer. I once made a photographic portrait of Rav Moshe Shapiro, zatzal. A student of his purchased a print from me in the largest size I made. After a few weeks he told me that he gave it away to another talmid of Reb Moshe’s because “his eyes kept following me round the room and I felt I was being watched all the time.”

In his book “Adjusting Sights,” about a religious soldier fighting on the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Rav Chaim Sabato describes fighting in one of the most desperate battles — Nafah quarry — in which his platoon was wiped out by the Syrians. He writes that he had with him a book of Tehillim (Psalms), stained with the tears of his mother, and he opened it up and started to read, “Mizmor L’David, Hashem Ro’i...” — Hashem is my Shepherd, I will not want.” The Syrians were closing in on all sides and he got to the verse, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I shall not fear, for You are with me.” He was walking, quite literally, through the valley of the shadow of Death. He writes, “It was as though King David had written it just for me. What was it that made you feel that all his Tehillim were about you? Like a portrait whose eyes stayed focused on you from every angle”

“And Hashem has distinguished you today…”

Because the Jewish People accepted the Torah and rejected idolatry, they “distinguished” Hashem as their only G-d, and Hashem has distinguished the Jewish People as His only people. Just as a lover who only has “eyes” for his “beloved,” so too the Jewish People sense the “Eyes” of Hashem following them wherever they are. The words of King David, who said of himself, “I am prayer,” are the voice of the Jewish People for all time, both in times of sadness and oppression, in times of war and death, and in times of joy and salvation. We never take our eyes off Hashem, and He never takes His “Eyes” off us.

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