Torah Weekly - Parshat Ki Tavo

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Parshat Ki Tavo

For the week ending 16 Elul 5760 / 15 & 16 September 2000

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  • On Being A Mensch
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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 Hashem who guides Jewish history 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 shemita 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 Hashem. 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, and 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 in 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.




    "You shall be glad with all the goodness that Hashem, your G-d,
    has given you and your household -- you and the levite and the convert in your midst." (26:11)

    Being a "mensch" is one of those un-translatable Yiddish phrases which defines what it means to be Jewish.

    A few years ago, an El Al flight to London was carrying a young child in need of an urgent and critical operation. Apart from the child's medical problem, there was another problem -- money. The parents had barely enough to cover the cost of the flight to London which involved the purchase of a whole row of seats to accommodate the stricken child and his medical support systems.

    During the flight a religious Jew who was traveling in first class came to the back of the plane to pray with a minyan. On his way back to his seat he went over to the father of the child and asked how the child was doing. In the course of the conversation the father mentioned that he had no idea how he was going to be able to cover the cost of the operation. He was already way over his head in debt with the medical expenses that he had already incurred. He would need nothing short of a small miracle.

    Without further ado, the man walked back to the first class cabin, pulled out his hat and proceeded to tour the aisles of the first class cabin collecting for the operation. In approximately ten minutes his hat contained checks to the value of some $100,000 -- sufficient for both the operation and the flights and all the medical expenses to date.

    If Jews excel at anything, it's tzedaka. Charity.

    Actually, "charity" is not the correct word. Rabbi Uziel Milevsky, zatzal, who was one of Ohr Somayach's great teachers, used to say that national characteristics are evidenced in the language of that nation. In English, we say "my duty calls." The equivalent expression in Hebrew would be -- "I need to acquit myself of my obligation." The Jew doesn't see his duty as something that "calls" to him, something external, and which he elects to do out of a higher moral sense. Rather he sees the very fact of his existence as obligating him -- "I exist, therefore I am obligated."

    So too, there is no separate word in Hebrew for charity. What the rest of the world calls charity, the Jew calls tzedaka -- "righteousness." It's what's right -- what has to be -- no more and no less. It's not something that I deserve a medal for. It's not a "calling." It is a basic qualification of being human.

    "You shall be glad with all the goodness that Hashem, your G-d, has given you and your household -- you and the levite and the convert who is in your midst."

    Sometimes it seems as if selfishness has become a religion. And ironically, the more proficient we become at being takers, the less it makes us happy.

    The words of this week's Torah reading come to remind us that we will only "be glad with all the goodness" that G-d has given us if we define our happiness in terms of being able to provide for the poor and the helpless.

    That's what it means "to be a mensch."

    • Ba'al Haturim


    Yeshaya 60:1- 22


    In this, the sixth of the "seven haftarot of consolation," the Prophet Yeshaya calls on Jerusalem to rise from the pain of darkness and to shine to the world in full glory. The light of redemption, both physical and spiritual, radiates on her. Her long-banished children are returning, and in their wake are the nations of the world who have acknowledged Hashem and that the Jewish People are His emissaries. This redemption, unlike those that have preceded it, will be complete and final. "Never again will your sun set, nor your moon be withdrawn, for Hashem shall be unto you an eternal light, and ended will be your days of mourning."


    "And your people, they are all righteous, forever shall they inherit the Land,
    a branch of My planting..." (60:21)

    People think reincarnation is an Eastern concept. It is a Middle-Eastern one. One of Judaism's gifts to Eastern thought is reincarnation. If a person doesn't follow the path that G-d indicates in this world, his soul may return until he corrects his character flaws. The above verse alludes to this process: "And your people are all righteous..." The question arises: "They're all righteous? I see many people who are a long way from being righteous!" To which the next phrase answers -- "a branch of My planting" -- those who fail to achieve righteousness will be "replanted" many times until their good deeds finally come to fruition. Even the least righteous person returns and returns to this world until he eventually becomes virtuous and noble.

    Mahram Mizrachi in Mayana shel Torah

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    The few interconnecting Sephardic synagogues on Mishmerot Hakehuna street right next to the Jewish Quarter parking lot certainly comprise one of the Holy City's most famous landmarks. They were built below street level because the Moslems who controlled the city at the time had an injunction against Jewish or Christian buildings being higher than Moslem ones in the area. The oldest of these synagogues -- the Eliyahu Hanavi and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai synagogues -- go back over 400 years to the time when the Jewish community, evicted from its previous home which became a mosque, established these places of worship.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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