Parshat Ki Tavo
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 G-d who guides the history of the Jewish People 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 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 G-d has told him to give to the Jewish People. Moshe exhorts them to walk in G-d's ways, because they are set aside as a treasured people to G-d. 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, after which 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 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.
Going Through The Motions
“Because you did not serve the L-rd, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart...” (28:47)
Reading this week’s Torah portion is like watching a film of two cars about to collide in slow-motion. We feel a chilling inexorability when we read the dire warnings of the results of failing to keep the Torah and compare these all too accurate predictions with the grim reality of Jewish history.
One of the strangest predictions that the Torah makes is that the Jewish People will be punished “Because you did not serve the L-rd, your G‑d, amid gladness and goodness of heart.” Why doesn’t the Torah talk about idol worship, immorality, baseless hatred? Aren’t those better reasons for exile and tragedy? What’s so wrong about not serving G-d with ‘gladness and goodness of heart’ that it provokes such terrible consequences?
Manner reveals this matter. When you ask someone to help you to do the dishes, you can tell whether he really wants to help or not. If he says to you, “Is there anything else I can do?” then his help is sincere; but if he says, “Can I go now?” you know that he had one foot out the door the whole time.
Similarly, when the Jewish People fail to serve G-d “amid gladness and goodness of heart”, it is symptomatic that their whole reason for serving G-d is selfish.
People worshipped idols because they wanted to control their deities. They thought they could ‘buy off’ the rain god with a sacrifice or two. Or they could get the sun god to behave by a few quick libations. When the Jewish People serve G-d without gladness and goodness of heart, they are revealing that they relate to G-d in the way of idol worship — trying to ‘buy off’ G-d by merely going through the motions.
"And the Kohen shall take the basket from your hands..." (26:4)
Hands are unique.
Hands are different from the other limbs of the body. The other limbs of the body are fixed and static, whereas the hands may be lowered lower than the feet or raised higher than the head.
The same is true on an allegorical/ethical level. Man can lower his hands: he can stoop to the lowest of the low. He can commit the greatest sins possible. He can murder. He can steal. Everything can be done with the hands. Idiomatically we talk of 'blood on his hands' and 'dirty hands'.
However, the hands can also be raised up. They can perform the holiest acts. When the Kohen blesses the people he raises his hands. Hands give tzedaka (charity). They put on tefillin. We extend 'the hand' of friendship and assistance.
The handiwork of a person is symbolized by the acquisitions that his hands have brought him. For this reason the first of his fruits must be made holy as “bikkurim”.
Since the beginning always influences what follows, every beginning needs to be holy. For when the beginning is holy everything that follows will also be holy.
When the hands are raised above the head, when their direction is Heavenwards, then the head and the body will inevitably follow after them.