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I've been thinking, reading, pondering all week long what to say this year about parashat Ki Tavo. I've actually constructed a rather interesting collection of thoughts and ideas which I want to share with all of you.
Then I did what I always do. I go back and look at musings for the same parasha from previous years--to see if I've duplicated myself, or if there is some concept or idea I want to draw upon to help me flesh out my thoughts this year.
And when I looked and was reminded of the musing I wrote in 5762, I realized that I had little choice but to repeat that musing this year, in honor of the poet/songwriter whose words gave shape and substance to my musing. So, in honor of Naomi Shemer, z"l, 1931-2004, I offer in tribute this musing inspired both by the words of Ki Tavo and her words.
And since I won't be sharing my new thoughts with you this year, here's a hint, to hopefully entice you to look for my Ki Tavo musing in 5765: with things that we treasure, do we lock them away safely, or do we use them, show them, subject them to the world and daily life, knowing that this will take its toll?
How sad that this incredible poet, who wrote "Atzuv Li Lamut Be'emzta Tammuz" (It's sad for me to die in the middle of Tammuz,) herself died in Tammuz, albeit not in the middle, but on the 7th of Tammuz - June 26, 2004. It is in honor of her that I offer the following musing again.
The words ring so true:
Al had'vash v'al haoketz For the honey and the sting...
Al hamar v'hamatok For the bitter and the sweet...
Al kol eileh... For all these things...
I've written before about how we tend to avoid the unpleasant things in life. In my Ki Tavo musing for 5760, Catalog of Calamities (see link at end) I remarked on how we "tiptoe through Ki Tavo," the tradition being to quietly and quickly read through the curses therein. I spoke of how we need to face the unpleasant and deal with it, not avoid it.
Yet that becomes more of a rarity in this society bent on political correctness, and with such raging co-dependency. We are wont to speak of anything that might make someone else uncomfortable.
But the blessings of life do not come without the curses, and we are but fools if we believe otherwise.
Ki Tavo has some of the best rhetoric the Torah has to offer--and--while this seems an odd comment to make--it's almost on a par with the later prophetic materials in its rhetorical skill. It gets its message across-clearly, and with a sledgehammer.
As many of you know, redeeming so-called irredeemable texts is a passion for me. I've eagerly taken on Hosea, the Rape of Dinah, and much more. Ki Tavo is no less a passion for me. I do not fear it. It is brilliantly crafted - the rhetoric of the curses aim precisely at the target audience (which, I believe, does include us as well as our ancestors.) While we (at least in the liberal community) may no longer deal more than ritually with issues of bride-price, we certainly know what it means to be told that another man will enjoy our wife. (D'varim 28:30.) We know what it means to be afflicted with arthritis (30:35.)
The language gets progressively stronger. By 28:55, we're eating our own children's flesh.
And, lest we wonder if these curses can come true, consider our historically stubborn and stiff-necked non-compliance with Gd's covenant, and consider the words of D'varim 28:43ff in light of present reality:
"The stranger in your midst shall rise above you higher and higher, while you sink lower and lower: 44 he shall be your creditor, but you shall not be his; he shall be the head and you the tail. " (JPS)
And further on in D'varim 28:64ff:
"The Lord will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced. 65 Yet even among those nations you shall find no peace, nor shall your foot find a place to rest. The Lord will give you there an anguished heart and eyes that pine and a despondent spirit. 66 The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival. 67 In the morning you shall say, 'If only it were evening!' and in the evening you shall say, 'If only it were morning!'--because of what your heart shall dread and your eyes shall see."
Sure much of this has befallen us, and not only once, but time and time again.
And finally, the ultimate curse--that we shall wind up back in Egypt as slaves.
Think about that for a minute. Drought and starvation, pestilence, disease, cuckoldry, cannibalism - all of these lesser penalties than returning to Egypt as slaves. Be careful of the obvious trap here. One might be led to simply conclude this means we should value our freedom above all. While that it certainly part of it, I think there is a stronger and deeper meaning--a bigger caution--that Gd can undo what Gd has done for us--that it is Gd that we have to thank--even when it seems Gd has abandoned us. For Gd will never have truly abandoned us until Gd returns us to Egypt as slaves. That is Gd's ultimate rejection of us. Would that it never comes. Ptui. Ptui. Ptui.
It's a shame we need the curses. Seems to me the blessings should be enough to motivate us. And some pretty good blessings they are, in those first 13 verses of D'varim 28. (Look for yourself.)
Yet that is not the universe our Gd has constructed for us. It is a universe of opposites, of separation. Dark from light. Day from night. Heaven from earth. Sea from dry land. Man and women. Jews and non-Jews. Blessings and curses. There's a pattern here, folks.
It seems the need for the curses to balance the blessings is built into the system. We can't avoid it. So why do we avoid the negative? Why do we hurriedly whisper our way through the curses?
We need them. As harsh and unpleasant as they may sound or seem, the blessings alone are not enough to inspire us, as a community, to follow Gd's commandments, and keep Gd's covenant with us. Even if we don't believe they will come true, we still need them, strong rhetoric and all. Sad thing is, you'd think they'd be all the more effective for their strong rhetoric. Yet we'll never get the taste for how truly awful these curses are if we water them down, read through them quickly and under our breath, or simply avoid dealing with them at all. To reiterate--we need them For, if all we had were blessings, we might become complacent and lazy. No, we need all these things.
Al had'vash v'al haoketz Al hamar v'hamatok
For the honey and the sting For the bitter and the sweet
And taking a little liberty with some of Naomi Shemer's words--
Over ALL our baby daughters (and sons)
And to her words, dare I add:
Al habrachot v'al hakla'lot Over blessings and over curses
Al kol eileh, al kol eileh.. Over all these things, over all these things
Sh'mor na li, Eli hatov Please watch them for me, my good Gd.
For we need them all.
Adrian ©2002, 2004 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on this parasha
Ki Tavo 5760, Catalogue of Calamities
Ki Tavo 5761, Rise and Shine,
Ki Tavo 5763, Still Getting Away With It?
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