Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@widomaker.com

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Parshat Ki Tavo

This Vort was written to the full and complete recovery of Chaim Avraham Layzer ben Tziviya.

The Parsha this week records an important moment in the history of mankind. Most of the Parsha deals with the commitment between Israel and Hashem that will begin when they enter Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).

Joshua is instructed to bring the tribes to Shechem and there split them into two groups of six; Shimon (Simeon), Levi, Yehudah (Judah), Yissachar (Issachar), Yosef (Joseph) and Binyamin (Benjamin) should stand on Mt. Gerizim. The tribes of Reuven (Reuben), Gad, Asher, Zevulun (Zebulun), Dan and Naphtali should stand on the adjacent mountain, Mt. Eyvel (see Devarim 11:29-30).

Between them, in the valley, the Kohanim (the priests) and the elders of the Levites would proclaim a series of blessings and curses, to each of which the assembled tribes on both mountains would respond with "Amen."

"..the very entry into the Land would include a pledge of allegiance, as it were, to the Torah which constitutes the essence of Jewish nationhood...Thus, the nation would proclaim that it abhorred stealthily committed sins, and [they] acknowledged that Hashem would punish those who committed them (Rambam: see Or Hachaim). Accordingly, the entire nation would inaugurate its occupation of the Land by declaring that there can be no contradiction between private and public morality: a nation that considers it acceptable to sin in private will inevitably see erosion in its high integrity." (Commentary from the Artscroll Chumash, Devarim 27:11)

This Parsha is always read the Shabbat before Selichot (prayers of Supplication recited on midnight the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah). Part of the effect that Selichot and the High Holidays produce is the realization of Hashem Bochen Kilayot - that Hashem examines our innermost thoughts and intentions.

This concept is taught to us by a verse in another part of our Parsha, and is actually found in the Pesach (Passover) Haggadah. Farmers are commanded to bring their "Bikkurim" (first fruits) to the priest, in the Jerusalem Temple only after Eretz Yisrael had been conquered, a King appointed, and a permanent Temple built to replace the portable Mishkan (Tabernacle).

"You shall come to whoever will be the Kohen in those days, and you shall say to him, ‘I declare today to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the Land that Hashem swore to our ancestors to give us.' The Kohen shall take the basket from your hand and lay it before the Altar of Hashem, your G-d. Then you shall cry out and say before Hashem, your G-d, ‘The Aramean tried to destroy my forefather [Jacob]. He descended to Egypt and sojourned there...' " (Devarim 26:3-6)

Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 - 1105), quotes the Talmud (Sota 32b) and comments on the words V'anita (then you shall answer [cry out]):

"This language signifies shouting."

The Talmud mentions this verse as a proof that the Levites responded in loud tones.

The Apter Rebbe (Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, Chassidic Master - 1745-1825) gives us further insight into this issue of loudness and he also connects it to the near destruction of Jacob and his family by Jacob's father-in-law Lavan, the Aramean.

"It is possible to understand the meaning from a passage in the Talmud (Sota 32) [that compares the prayer of Chana (the model of all prayer) and that of the scoffers] that says: ‘One might think that it is forbidden to raise your voice in prayer for it appears as if you are among those who are weak in their belief. For they believe that the Holy One Blessed Be He cannot hear prayers that are said faintly or that He cannot inspect one's inner feelings (heaven forbid). For the reality is that the Holy One Blessed Be He does know the thoughts of man and doesn't need for man to pray loudly. That is why there is a connection to the Aramean. For it says, ‘The Aramean tried to destroy my forefather.' And from this the Rabbis learned that he tried to destroy all of Israel [his son-in-law Jacob, his daughters and his grandchildren]. However, from the deeds of Lavan and from his words there is no hint to this (see B'rayshit [Genesis] 31:17-32:1). Yet, He Who inspects our hearts mandated that this was the intention that urged Lavan on. Therefore it said, V'anita (then you shall cry out) in a loud voice. For it is not forbidden to pray aloud since we all know that Hashem knows man's inner thoughts.' "

The Apter Rebbe is teaching us something very profound. Rarely, does the Torah comment on previous passages. In the episode of Ya'akov leaving his father-in-law Lavan's home, the Torah (B'rayshit 31:17-32:1) gives us only the facts of the situation. But when our Parsha says ‘The Aramean tried to destroy my forefather,' it is editorializing on the former situation. Hashem is telling us that He knows our thoughts and intentions, so that when we made our declaration of faithfulness on the mountains Gerizim and Eyvel, we knew then, as we know now, that nothing can be hidden from the eyes and ears of Hashem.

This wonderful visual image on the tribes declaring their faithfulness is appropriately read the Shabbat before we begin Selichot. The countdown to Rosh Hashanah (also known as Yom Hazikaron [the Day of Remembrance]) and Yom Kippur has begun. As Jews we must always be cognizant of the power of prayer. Knowing that He listens not only to what we say, but also to the emotion and intent of the words. Hashem expects a lot from His chosen people. It is not enough to just give lip service to our Maker. NO! He demands that we place Him front and center in our minds and in our hearts.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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