Parshat Ki Tavo
When the Jewish Peopledwell in the Land of Israel, its first fruits are to be taken to the Temple and given to the kohen. This is done in a ceremony that expresses recognition that it is
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 Hashem has told him to give to the Jewish People. Moshe exhorts them to walk in Hashem’s ways because they are set aside as a treasured people to Him.
When the Jewish Peoplecross 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 are to stand on Mount Gerizim, and half on Mount Eval, and the levi'im will stand in a valley between the two mountains. The levi'im will recite twelve 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, blessings that 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 Eyes Have It
“If your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then gather it (the lost object) into your house, and it shall remain with you until your brother inquires after it, and you shall return it to him.” (22:2)
In the early 19th century in Lithuania, Reb Chaim Mi Verlogen once raised a large sum of money to rescue a Jew who was being held to ransom in a neighboring city. The only way to get to this town was through a forest notorious for its bandits.
They had barely entered the forest when the bandits surrounded Reb Chaim and his talmidim. There was no escape. Reb Chaim handed all the money to the bandit chief. “You will now be put to death,” said the chief. Reb Chaim said, “Before you kill us, I ask for a final request.” “What do you want?” asked the bandit chief. “I ask for a few minutes for contemplation.” Reb Chaim sat on the ground, seemingly lost in prayer.
Finally, Reb Chaim said, “I am ready.” The bandit chief raised his axe to kill Reb Chaim. Then he looked down into Reb Chaim’s eyes, threw down the axe and the money and shouted, “Let’s get out of here.” The other bandits fled. The talmidim cried out. “A miracle!” Reb Chaim said, “That was no miracle. When I knew that I was going to die, I thought to myself, the greatest deveikut, the greatest closeness that a person can have with his soul in this world is in the moments just before the soul departs the body. I didn’t want my final moments in this world to be filled with hakpada, with resentment.
And so, I asked for time to try to judge the bandit favorably. Much as I tried, resentment overcame me, time and time again, until I thought to myself, this bandit was once an innocent young boy. He was probably poor and hungry. Probably, one day he stole an apple or a cake and someone caught him, and he got locked him up with a bunch of criminals, and when he got out, he turned to a life of crime and one day he killed someone. A young, innocent boy eventually became a killer.
Then I felt I could leave the world without resentment. When he looked into my eyes, he saw that I understood him. That was probably the first time anyone looked at him like that since he was a boy. When we judge people favorably, we can actually change who they are.
“If your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then gather it into your house, and it shall remain with you until your brother inquires after it, and you shall return it to him.”
This verse can be understood homiletically as follows: “If your brother is not near you” — if he has turned his back on his faith and the faith of our forefathers to the extent that ‘you do not know him’ — do not reject him, but rather ‘then gather him into your house.’ Be close to him. ‘And he shall remain with you’until he finds his true self, and by doing this, ‘you shall return it to him’ — you will have given him the way of return, the way of teshuva.
If we can change the way we look at other people, we can indeed change who they are. If we have children who are struggling in a system that can be very judgmental, if we can look at them and see how good they are, how special they are, who they are and who they could be, we can change the way they look at themselves.