parasha

Ki tavo 5778

 

Ki Tavo 5778
Torah for Everyone – Ki Tavo


Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
Moses’ long speech, some of which is read in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, deals with prophetic and detailed guidance prior to the Jewish nation’s entry to the Land of Israel. The transition from a society wandering the desert to the foundation of an established state demanded preparation. Moses realized this and instructed the nation on how to act in a variety of areas.


At a certain point, these are Moses’ words to the nation:


Pay attention and listen, O Israel! This day, you have become a people to the Lord, your God. You shall therefore obey the Lord, your God, and fulfill His commandments and His statutes, which I command you this day.
(Deuteronomy 27, 9-10)

 

Many commentators have delved into the questions raised by these verses. What is “this day” that Moses is referring to? What happened on this day that led Moses to the surprising utterance that “This day you have become a people to the Lord”? What does it mean that they “became a people to the Lord”?


We will examine the answer given by the renowned Torah commentator, Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 11th century) who typically completed the story using wide scriptural references.
Later in the story, we read about the Torah being written by Moses and then being given to the respected of the nation, the kohanim (priests), and the elders: “Then Moses wrote this Torah, and gave it to the priests, the descendants of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.” (Ibid 31, 9). Rashi connects this event with the utterance ““This day you have become a people to the Lord” and writes:


On the very day that Moses gave the Torah scroll to the sons of Levi-as the verse says, “And he gave it to the kohanim, the sons of Levi”. All Israel came before Moses and said to him: “Moses, our Teacher! We also stood at [Mount] Sinai and accepted the Torah, and it was [also] given to us! Why, then, are you giving the members of your tribe control over it, so that some day in the future they may claim, 'It was not given to you-it was given only to us!’” Moses rejoiced over this matter and it was on account of this, that he said to them, “This day, you have become a people [to the Lord your God]”. [This meant:] “It is today that I understand that you cleave to the Omnipresent and desire Him.”
(Rashi on Deuteronomy 29, 3)


The Torah was given to the kohanim and to the elders so that they would teach it to the nation, as Moses had instructed them to do. But the nation was not willing to accept the fact that the Torah would be in the hands of a limited group. The nation wished to be a partner in Torah learning, to take a part in the comprehension of Divine guidance. The nation did not want to live with the risk that an elitist group might some day try to prevent it from an unmediated familiarity with the word of God.


This complaint made Moses happy. He had accompanied and led the nation for forty years of wandering in the desert, heard its complaints, listened to those wishing to return to Egypt… but this new complaint made him feel joy and satisfaction. Indeed, the nation had moved forward and was now demanding that the Torah belong to each and every person, man, woman, and child. This was why “This day you have become a people to the Lord”. Now, said Moses to the nation, you have reached the national reality we have strived for in that “you cleave to the Omnipresent and desire Him.”


And indeed, learning Torah has never been something that belonged only to a small elitist group in the nation. The Torah was not safeguarded in the temple. For thousands of years, any Jew could open the Torah himself, read, examine, question, and seek answers. Nowadays, there are translations in various languages readily available of the Torah, the Talmud, books of halacha and philosophy, so that even someone who is not fluent in Hebrew can access the Torah and learn it.
This unique attribute of the Torah is what preserved Jewish identity throughout thousands of years of exile. Every child knew that the Torah was accessible to all and that there is no obstacle for anyone thirsty for Jewish knowledge. Jewish identity will continue to be preserved only if we understand the importance of every Jew learning Torah, if we continue to “cleave and desire” God, the Torah, and its commandments.


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