Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tavo
To dedicate this lesson

Ki Tavo


Rabbi Berel Wein

The word "ki" in Hebrew has a number of meanings. The meaning most often used is "if." However it also means "when" as expressed here in the first word of this week’s parsha. But Hebrew is a many layered and many faceted language. Sparse in vocabulary - English has almost ten times as words as does Hebrew - it is nevertheless very rich in meaning and nuance. So that the Hebrew word when used in a certain sense still retains certain aspects of its alternate meanings that apply to other forms and grammatical structures. So even though the word "ki" that appears here in our parsha clearly means "when" it nevertheless retains within it a shade of meaning that can be understood as meaning "if." The Torah means to imply to us that living in the Land of Israel is no sure thing for the Jewish people. In case the nuance of the word "ki" was not sufficient to drive that message home to us, the parsha is distinguished by its long and bitterly detailed "tochacha" which shows us the truly tenuous hold we have on this land. The Land of Israel is acquired through pain and sacrifice, the rabbis taught us. It is a difficult land to acquire and it is a difficult land to hang on to. The rabbis taught us that regarding Torah it is as difficult to acquire its knowledge as though it was vessels of gold and it is as easy to lose them as fragile crystal. The same general idea can be applied to the Land of Israel as far as the Jewish people are concerned.

The parsha makes it clear that the relationship between the people and the Land of Israel is based upon mitzvoth. The first section of the parsha deals with the commandments regarding bikurim - the offerings of the first fruits of the season - and the commandments regarding the tithing of produce and the redemption of it in coins to be brought to and spent in Jerusalem. All of the laws regarding the Land of Israel and its produce are meant to remind us of the uniqueness of that land and its inherent holiness. If the Jews somehow treat the Land of Israel as just another country or location on face of this earth then their stay in the land will remain questionable and impermanent. Just as the Jews are not allowed by God to see themselves as just plain folks like everyone else so too does He not allow us to see the Land of Israel as a place on the map just like anywhere else. Zionism learned the hard way that Uganda is not the Promised Land for Jews. The difficulty in treating the Land of Israel as a unique location lies in the practical tasks of everyday national, governmental and social life. How to try and live a supposedly normal life in a country and location that the Torah defines for us as being abnormal and unique represents the great challenge that faces the Jewish people in today’s world. Hopefully we will meet that challenge more successfully than did our earlier ancestors.
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