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Ki Tavo Discussion

09/15/2022 08:23:59 AM


Dan Leemon

Welcome back to Junior Congregation!

We begin the school year near the end of the Torah, with a portion called "Ki Tavo". "Ki Tavo" means "when you arrive". Moses is giving the people - our ancient ancestors - instructions on what to do when they first arrive in the land of Canaan. This particular group of people are the ones who parents and grandparents were enslaved in Egypt. They have been wandering the desert for forty years, complained, argued, promised to follow God's commandments, and witnessed many miracles. Canaan is the land God first promised to Abraham back near the beginning of the Torah and now, after hundreds of years, the people will finally return there.

  • What do you think is the first think God wants them to do when they get there?
  • What's the first thing you might do? What's the first thing you do when you get to a new place where you will be spending time (a new school, a vacation or camp, a friend or relative's house)?

The first thing God wants the people to do is to take the first fruits they grow, and bring them to the high priest, and declare to God that they have actually, finally, arrived. They are to repeat their history - that they were enslaved in Egypt and treated with cruelty, and that they cried out to God for help, and that God freed them with strength and power miracles. 

  • Why do you think God wants them to do this?
  • Why should they repeat the whole story? What does God want them to feel or express?
  • Why the very first fruits?

After they have done this, God commands them to rejoice, with all that they now have, in this rich land described as "flowing with milk and honey" (sounds delicious and a little messy!), along with their family, friends, community, and even strangers. God then tells them that, in the third year, they must take a tenth (called a "tithe") of their harvest and give it to windows and orphans, so that everyone has enough to eat. And God reminds them that, by doing all this, they are showing that they have chosen God to be their God, and promising to obey the commandments they have been given, and that, in return, God will fulfill God's promise of giving them the land, protecting them, and caring for them. 

  • Can you command someone to be joyful? Thinking about what they've just been through- all the difficulties in the desert, all the travel and wandering, after hundreds of years of nothing but slavery and hard work - does God need to tell them to be joyful about being in their homeland, eating the food they have grown, and being protected by God?
  • God tells them to give a tenth of their crops every three years to charity. How do you decide how much of what you have to give to charity?
  • Who protects and takes care of you? Is there anything you do in return?

In addition to bringing their first fruits to the high priest, God tells the people that, as soon as they reach their land, they must write down the Torah, and build an altar for sacrifices to God. In essence, they are building the first ancient synagogue (after the portable one they built in the desert).

  • Why does God think it's important for them to have a synagogue?
  • What other community buildings or spaces do you think they should build? What places do we have in our communities now, other than our homes?

Also when they arrive in their new land, the various tribes are given the assignment of standing on two nearby mountains, and, we presume in very loud voices, announce to the people curses - punishments - for not following God's commandments, and the blessings for following them. What they could be punished for - from intentionally giving wrong directions to a blind person to disrespecting one's parents or violating any of the commandments in the Torah - is quite a list, and the extent of the punishment is pretty severe. The Torah says that, if we violate the commandments, we will be cursed wherever we go ("you will be cursed in the city, and in the field") and in every possible way ("The Lord will send the curse of shortages, confusion, and turmoil upon you, in every one of your endeavors which you undertake, until it destroys you and until you quickly vanish") and that the curses will include diseases ("all the ones you know about, and all the ones you don't know about"), droughts, losing any war we fight, and a number of other things that are pretty awful and disgusting-sounding and that you can read for yourselves. The list of curses is so long and so scary that we read it from the Torah all at once, and quickly, to get past it. The blessings are the reverse - we will be blessed, our land will be blessed, we will have plenty to eat, our enemies will run from us, and we will have everything we need. The curses are a much longer and more detailed list than the blessings. 

  • Why might God want to remind the people of all the bad things that can happen to them if they don't follow the commandments? Why such detail? Why is the list of curses longer than the list of blessings?
  • Why isn't it enough to just have the positive side - follow the commandments and everything will be fine? Why the need to enumerate the punishments?
  • What do you respond to better - threats of bad things that could happen to you if you don't do what you should, or promises of good things?

The portion concludes with Moses adding a few words of his own, just to reinforce the message of how lucky the people are to have been freed from slavery, helped by miracles, and brought to the promised land. As we start a new school year and prepare for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, may we all be grateful for what we have, and feel blessed to have it.

Shabbat shalom,


Fri, September 30 2022 5 Tishrei 5783