Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8): Blessing and Curses and History

Chuckanut Mountain. Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Ki Tavo presents us with a portion that challenges much of our theological foundation. The portion is filled with a series of blessings and curses based on the Deuteronomic literary construct of: if you follow my Commandments you will be blessed and if you do not you will be cursed. In traditional congregations these verses are often read in a quiet voice. The theology behind these verses can raise some interesting conversations at your congregation’s Torah study this Shabbat.

But I want to point out another series of verses that will be familiar. In 26 we are reminded that when the Israelites enter the land they are to set up an alter, bring offerings and then recite a series of verses that begin (26:5) “My father was a fugitive Aramean.” Yes, in this Torah portion we read the Biblical context for the famous lines from the Passover Hagaddah that open the section of the telling of our story as a people. These  verses, which open a series of passages describing the blessings and curses, sparked a thought about history and our life. Our generation has witnessed, as most generations have, a flow of history that literally changed the world in so many ways. If you are in your seventies or eighties or sixties, look back on life and see the level of change, from political to Jewish to technology to family dynamics. We Jews are a people of history, it flows through our collective bodies. Why do I raise this? Because we may be in a situation where history is being marginalized. As we look at our world today do some of us think that we have seen some of this before, or have studied this before? Yet, here we are living it again. Doesn’t anyone look from where we have come to learn lessons for where we are and where we wish to go?

I raise this for your consideration. As we approach S’lichot this Saturday night and the High Holidays on the eve of September 6, we are called to look forward through the lense of where we have come. What lessons can we take from our own history, as well as the history of our community and even country? Someone once wrote that we live forward but understand backwards. Are we losing the ability to appreciate the lessons from the past, for if we do, as many have said, we will be doomed to repeat them. We cannot escape history, our own personal history of that of our community. It is our unique story. We can learn much from our past, if we but have the courage to be open to seeing it, embracing it and learning from it.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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