Parshat ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
a.k.a God makes promises and threatens curses
Moses continued to address the Israelites, explaining God’s directives.
“When you dwell in the Promised Land, take a selection of the first fruits and bring
them to the place God chooses for His Name. With the priest you must make an offering saying these words, ‘We
remember when we were slaves in Egypt. We remember how God brought us to freedom with a strong hand and
outstretched arm, with signs and miracles. You, God, brought us to this land flowing with milk and honey. And
so, now I bring these first fruits that you, God, have given me.’ ”
Then Moses said, “You shall cast yourself down before the Presence of God and rejoice
in all the good that God has given you and your household. You must give portions of the first fruits to the
Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow and they should eat it within your gates until they are
satiated. In the third year of giving these tithes, you shall tell God that you have followed the
commandments for giving regularly to those who are less fortunate than you and ask God to bless the
Israelites and the soil.”
“God commands you to carry out these laws and social ordinances with all your heart
and with all your soul. Listen to God and promise to keep all God’s laws. Today, God has said that you shall
be a people belonging to God alone. God will place you higher than all the other nations God has created. You
are a proclamation for God’s Name and his glory. You shall be a holy people to God.”
“When you enter the Promised Land, you shall make an altar with stones and carve the
words of this Teaching. You shall make offerings there and rejoice before God.
Follow all of God’s commandments. The priests shall say to the people upon Mount
Gerizim: ‘Cursed is the man who makes an image which is an abomination to God.’
‘Cursed is he who moves the boundary marker of his neighbor.’
‘Cursed is he who deliberately misleads a blind man, or does not give what is
rightfully due to an orphan or stranger or widow.’
‘Cursed is he who commits incest, with parent or step-parent or sibling. Cursed is he
who lies with any animal.’
‘Cursed is he who strikes down his neighbour in secret or takes a bribe to strike down
an innocent man. Cursed is he who does not uphold the teachings of God and carry them out.’
And the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
“If you listen to God and carry out all his commandments, God will set you above all
the nations of the earth. You will be blessed in the city and in the field. The fruit of your body and the
fruit of your soil and the fruit of your livestock will be blessed and be in abundance. You will be blessed
when you come in and when you go out.
God will defeat your enemies. God will raise you up as a holy nation if you walk in
the ways of God. God will give you rain in its season and bless all the work of your hand. You will lend to
many nations but you will not borrow from any. God will make you the head and not the tail, you will be only
above and not below, if you obey God’s commandments.
But, if you do not hearken to the voice of God, nor carry out God’s commandments all
these curses will come upon you and destroy you. You will be cursed in the city and the field; the fruits of
your body and soil and livestock will be cursed. You will be cursed when you come in and when you go out. You
will be restless and feel guilt in everything you do, because of your wickedness. Because you did not serve
God with joy and with gladness of heart, you will serve your enemies whom God will send against you. If you
do not fear God’s Name, then God will send you evil and enduring plagues and sufferings and sicknesses. Only
few of you will be left and you will not be like the stars of the heavens.”
“You will be scattered among all the peoples from one end of the earth to another and
serve other gods. You will find no peace and your heart will be full of trembling and grieving of the soul.
You will have terror night and day and no faith in your life. You will be returned to slavery. These are the
words of this Covenant at Moab.”
Then Moses reminded the people, “In Egypt, you have seen all that God did to the
Pharaoh, his servants and his land. I led you for forty years in the wilderness and your clothing and shoes
did not wear out. You neither ate bread nor drank wine nor strong drink so that you could know that God is
Your God. And you came to this place and your enemies were driven away. Therefore keep carefully the words of
this Covenant so that you may consciously practice everything you do.”
Commentary on the 50th parsha (portion) of the Torah. The Torah consists of the
five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.
To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews
Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism
and how we got where we are.
He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.
SAS: Methuselah, this looks to me like a repeat catalogue of promises and
threats. No new promises but a list of very scary curses.
MS: First of all, I think you need
to understand that the Torah is not a single narrative, but a book of sacred writings. The people who read it are
reminded, weekly, of what their rights and responsibilities are as God’s people.
SAS: But we’ve heard it all before.
I’ll be your God, you are my chosen people, I promise you a land, flowing with milk and honey. I’ll make you
fruitful, I’ll destroy your enemies, I brought you out of Egypt from slavery. How many more
MS: It’s important to remember
these things. These words should be written on our hearts. We need to know who and why we are.
SAS: Ok, let’s say I grant you that. We all do need to be grateful for our lives
and our blessings. What about these ranting curses? If you don’t remember who I am and bring me offerings and do as
I say, I am going to punish you in a way that you can’t even imagine, but here’s a taste: Boils, plagues, blisters,
haemorrhoids, depression, misery, unease, disease, sleeplessness, anxiety, loneliness, slavery… shall I
MS: Well, I want you to imagine how it might feel to set aside your belief in
that which gave you life and sustained it. You would indeed, surely, be tormented by anxiety, depression,
restlessness, despair. You would have nothing and no-one to rely on. Surely this is natural, even on your account
of the human condition, such as it is?
SAS: Well, firstly, you have conveniently neglected to mention the boils,
pestilence, haemorrhoids, wars, poverty, slavery and so on. I don’t think pestilence is an emotional condition.
Anyway, why threaten people for not being sufficiently thankful and bringing offerings and swearing daily
MS: As I have often mentioned to
you, you get literal at the most inappropriate moments. God is talking to the people in terms they can understand,
at the place and time at which these messages are being given. The point of course is that when you lose your
belief and faith in the omnipotence and goodness of God, you lose everything.
SAS: Look, my friend, why the threats? Why the aggressive, bullying language?
Why the constant warning to love me, do what I want or else? It seems like a very unhealthy basis for a
relationship. And it is hardly a covenant entered into by equal parties. At best it’s a protection racket. And what
about the obvious favoritism? I have picked you above all the nations! I don’t get it. Are the Israelites supposed
to be stupid? Or just terrified?
MS: You don’t get it do you? God is
the parent. He guides his children. They owe him love and respect. His side of the bargain is to protect and love
them. What could be wrong with that as an arrangement? It’s not always easy to be a parent or a
SAS: I can see we have a different view of close family relationships. I’d like
to believe that fear of unimaginable punishment is not the best instrument for ensuring love and
MS: We do have a different view – let’s see if we can find some common ground.
You need to develop some respect first, though. I say this especially as you have looked at this parsha so
selectively, and ignored the spirit and moral tenor of the text. The commandment to the people is that they look
after the priest, the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the less fortunate before they see to their own needs.
The passage is governed by this sense of charitable responsibility. The people are told to be kind and thoughtful
towards others. Further, God says they must carry out his laws and social ordinances with all their hearts and
souls. This is not empty piety we are talking about. The people are to be living, breathing ambassadors for
righteousness. This spirit must envelop their very souls and guide them at every turn.
SAS: Ah, yes, that’s extremely noble and inspiring. But I just can’t reconcile
these noble and uplifting sentiments with the tone of those hideous curses.
MS: Use your brain,
Sigmund. The passage, if you look at it carefully, involves an address
to Israel not to each Israelite as an individual. We live or die as a people, as a community. We are only as strong
as the tribe. So what good is it to us if 80 per cent of us walk in the paths of righteousness and the other 20 per
cent do not? These people need to know that they must toe the line or
we all suffer together. We could, conceivably, die out as a people if we do not act in concert.
SAS: This confuses me a lot. For,
indeed, Moses starts off by addressing the people as a whole, but when he gets to the curses he uses expressions
like, “Cursed is he who commits incest.” This is a personal curse, not a communal one. So is this passage directed
at individuals too?”
MS: Well, obviously it’s not aimed at specific individuals but Moses is letting
every one of the people know that certain behaviours are regarded as particularly reprehensible. God could punish
us individually or collectively. If bad behaviour becomes rife, or if community leaders turn a blind eye to evil
practices, then God might well curse the community as a whole. It is therefore important that we all act together
and take responsibility for the behaviour of one another. We stand or fall as a people.
SAS: Looking at individual punishments for the moment, I think it is interesting
that someone who shifts a boundary post a few metres should be cursed in the same wise as someone who leads a blind
man into a wall, a ditch or a raging stream. The first-mentioned action is a lesser sin, surely, and not worthy of
a curse. Not a fully blown one, anyway.
MS: Well, God determines the punishment, measure for measure. We leave that to
Him. The important thing to realize is that a good man would no more shift a boundary post to his own advantage
than he would lead a blind man into a river.
SAS: In any event, the wrongdoer is
liable for punishment while the good person – or the good and charitable community as a whole – will receive just
reward for their action. The portion, I’m afraid, creates a simplistic equation which comes to this: righteousness
is richly rewarded while bad behaviour is summarily punished. Well, in the real world this is not the case.
Sometimes it’s the righteous who are cursed while the sinner walks away with a broad smile on his face. Blessings
and curses fall where they will, and it’s often the good who are tragically and desperately cursed. This applies
equally well to groups as to individuals. A “righteous people” can be
just as easily swept away by a flood as a group of pirates might stumble upon sunken treasure and live happily ever
after. The good individual can contract a disease and die while the thieving villain sometimes lives a hearty life
until 90. Explain that away, old man!
MS: I cannot speak for particular individuals. God knows their souls and he
deals with them in a fair and just manner. Speaking for the community, however, I can say that what happens to us
as a group depends upon our fidelity with respect to God and His covenant. If we remain faithful, God’s riches
blessings will come upon us as promised.
SAS: You might think you know a lot about God, Methuselah, but you have a great
deal still to learn about the world.
MS: Since it is God’s world, I understand it a lot better than you
If you’d like to know more about the real history of our
extended Jewish family, read on.
The Gaza War (2008-2009), Part I
Following Hamas’ rise to power in 2006, Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip,
but Palestinian groups were able to access goods and weapons through tunnels. Between 2005 and 2007,
Palestinian groups fired 2700 Qassam rockets into Israel, killing four Israelis, while Israel responded with
artillery fire that left 59 Palestinians dead. Other incidents raised the death toll on both
On June 19, 2008, Egypt engineered a cessation of hostilities but accusations of bad
faith on both sides increased tensions. A firefight broke out on 4 November, 2008, after Israel launched an
offensive into the Strip, purportedly to destroy a tunnel used for the infiltration of militants. Hamas
responded with a 35-rocket barrage into Southern Israel. Rocket attacks then escalated.
Talks of renewing the six-month truce broke down and war loomed as Palestinian rocket
sallies were met with an Israeli airstrike on 24 December.
The war began in earnest on 27 December, 2008, when Israel launched Operation Cast
Lead. This took the form of an air strike on military and police targets as well as Hamas government
On 3 January, the Israeli ground invasion began and by 5 January there were running
battles taking place in crowded urban areas of Gaza City. There were deaths on both sides, but Hamas suffered
the greater toll of casualties with close to 100 of its fighters killed. On 6 January, the battle shifted to
the northern parts of the city, and 125 Palestinian gunmen were killed. The following day, Israel carried out
40 airstrikes. All the while, Palestinian rockets were still being fired into southern
In response to civilian pressure, Israel opened a “humanitarian corridor” to allow aid
to be brought to civilians. This three-hour cessation of hostilities was repeated almost daily during the
From 8 January to 10 January the fighting continued, and scores of Hamas targets were
hit. By 11 January, the IDF was able to launch an attack on the suburbs of Gaza City. Hamas retaliated on 12
January by launching 30 rockets and mortars that reached as far as Beersheba, Ashdot and
On 13 January, Israel forces entered the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood where heavy fighting
took place in the narrow streets. As the IDF advanced, members of Hamas’ Kassam Brigades deserted in
January 15 proved to be a fateful day in the conflict. Israeli soldiers decimated
Hamas’ “Iranian Unit” – soldiers who’d received training in Iran – in a battle in the Zeytoun neighborhood.
On the same day, the Israelis shelled the HQ of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency where three people
were injured and food and fuel meant for Palestinian refugees was destroyed. Israel maintained that militants
had launched attacks from the facility, which claim the UNRWA denied.
Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, upheld his soldiers’ right to defend themselves but
apologized for the incident. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Hamas was using Palestinian civilians as human
shields and its fighters were shooting at Israeli soldiers from positions close to UN
Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by Dad, Chaya and
BEN: I’m not surprised that Israel and Hamas got stuck into each other. That was always going to happen,
DAD: The capture, and imprisonment of Corporal Gilad
Shalit in June, 2006, set a bitter tone for the relationship between these two powers. Hamas’ persistence in
firing rockets into southern Israel made conflict inevitable, and it’s hard to blame Israel for defending its
CHAYA: Hamas will argue that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was reason enough for firing those
rockets. There are always two sides to the story in this conflict. In fact, there may be more than two sides
DAD: Granted, but the firing of rockets into cities is a very serious matter. I’m surprised that Hamas
followed this course of action since it must surely have appreciated that Israel would strike hard and kill
many of its military leaders.
BEN: Perhaps they were banking on Israel not attacking them in urban areas for fear of international
CHAYA: They wouldn’t have been so naïve. Israel has always found a way to defend its interests and it
hasn’t worried overmuch about international reaction. The argument made is that they have to act in defense
of their people.
DAD: True, although Israel should be wary of creating public relations disasters as these will embarrass
its allies and put the latter in an awkward spot. The Gaza War certainly brought down a good deal of wrath on
Israel’s leaders’ heads for causing civilian casualties.
CHAYA: The incident at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was certainly unfortunate and, from what
I’ve read, it’s far from clear whether the enemy posed a direct threat to Israeli forces from that
facility. In any event, why should public relations
disasters be of any interest to them, if their main criterion is self-defense?
BEN: Well, whether Israel made a mistake or not attacking the building, you can’t really blame them. In
the heat of action, things like that are going to happen. Once you’re fighting in crowded urban areas, there
are going to be errors of judgment and innocent blood split. It goes with the
DAD: That’s unfortunately true although, given the sophistication of today’s weapons and methods of
intelligence collection, Israel was in a better position to avoid mistakes than in previous
conflicts. Let’s not excuse them too easily here. There were
some 750,000 Palestinians depending on food and fuel kept at the facility. The attack proved disastrous for
those helpless refugees. For Israel, it was a PR
CHAYA: Militarily, though, it was Hamas that came off badly, not just in terms of numbers killed but in
terms of prestige and credibility as a fighting force. Having their soldiers desert in times of danger was a
major indication of indiscipline within the ranks.
BEN: I have also read that only a few days into the conflict their commanders swapped uniforms for
civilian clothes to avoid being identified. This would have led to perceptions of cowardice among their own
DAD: It would certainly have undermined their stature as commanders of their people. Hamas also had to
live down the embarrassment of some of their more elite units – like the “Iranian Unit” – being mown down by
BEN: So why, do you think, did Hamas take the risk of provoking such
CHAYA: Perhaps they expected that, with God on their side, things would turn out
DAD: More likely, they were hoist by their own ideological petard. If one of your major reasons for
being is to oppose Israel’s claim to the Holy Land, then you have to attack her at some point – to justify
your own existence and to retain credibility with your electorate. This may have nothing to do with the
belief both sides are said to have, that God is on their side.
CHAYA: If that’s truly the case, then a patched-up Hamas will be back for a further testing of Israel’s
power and Israel’s resolve.
DAD: Rockets could well be flying while we’re eating. The
appetite for holy war is not easily satisfied.
Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and
humor, insightful reflections on this life of ours.
Here are tonight’s sayings:
· The snake that doesn’t bite me, let it live a thousand years
· My definition of a tragedy is a clash between right and right (Amos
· History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all
other alternatives. (Abba Eban)
· The well-fed doesn’t believe the starving
· Even a secret agent can’t lie to a Jewish mother (Peter Malkin)
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing
to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around
Barbara Tuchman (1912 –
A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Tuchman proved to be one of the world’s most engaging writers of
history. “The writer's object should be to hold the reader's attention,” she
famously said and her books bore testimony to her narrative gift. The daughter of a man who was president of the American Jewish Committee in the 40s, Tuchman earned
a BA from Radcliffe College and went on to author 11 books. Her books include: Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour (1956), The Guns of August (1962), Stilwell and the American Experience in China,
1911-1945 (1971), The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984) and The First Salute
Lubetkin, a.k.a. “Celina”, was a leader of the Jewish underground in Warsaw. She was the
only woman on the High Command of the resistance group Żydowska
Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB). A founding member of the left-wing Zionist Anti-Fascist Bloc, she
became one of the leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. She survived to take part in 1944’s Polish Warsaw
Uprising. After the war she assisted Holocaust survivors in Europe and helped Jews to secretly enter Mandate
Palestine where she herself took up residence in 1946. She helped to establish the Kibbutz Lohamey ha-Geta’ot
and the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum. In 1961 she testified at Eichmann’s trial. In 2001, her granddaughter,
Roni Zuckerman, became the
Israeli Air Force’s first female
We will now sing a traditional song to conclude our Shabbat celebration. You have a
copy of the words, so please join in as we sing.
The song is sung
Farewell and an Invitation
Thank you for coming together to share our Shabbat. May you go out into the new week
with renewed strength, confidence and happiness.
We now cordially invite you to join us for some coffee and cake.