Ki Tavo is a portion that is mostly known for the recitation of blessings and curses, couched in the usual literary style of Deuteronomy which promsies blessings if we follow God’s law and, well, not such good responses if we choose not to. The portion opens with Moses and the elders commanding/charging/instructing the people to observe all the commandments as they enter the land, flowing with milk and honey, that has been promised. As soon as they get to the land they are to set up stones, create an alter, offer sacrifice and “You shall inscribe upon the stones all the words of this teaching (Torah) clearly” (27:8) This is the text I wanted to share with you. The first charge is to establish a means through which what has taken place in the years of wandering is written down. Why? Not only to have the people reminded of what has taken place, but also to make sure that future generations can know. History is, as we know, a powerful aspect of Jewish identity.
Rabbi Chaim Stern, in his book “Day by Day”, comments on this verse by saying that “Thus the reading anticipates that the time to understand, to see, and to hear what will be taught is always today. The Teaching is not for one generation only, but for all time.” (331) The power of what has taken place, of how we have gotten to where we are –and the need to pass that knowledge on to the next generation, is a major aspect of who we are as a people. In a sense, every generation writes down their version of The Teaching, In a very real way, Boomers are beginning to that now. As we age, many are contemplating exactly what we shall leave behind of our time. There is much to debate. We grew up in a world of great social turmoil, attitudinal change and hope. Now, decades later, do we still feel that sense of hope and change?
How fitting then that this portion is one of the ones that bring us to the High Holidays. And how interesting is it that the portion will be read on the Shabbat that flows into S’lichot, that service which brings home the coming of the Holidays. In our “turning” to the sacred, we often think of what we have done this past year and, in a way, what of what we have done that we wish to leave behind. No doubt as many of us sit in synagogue with family beside us we will pause, even for a brief moment, to think about what these next generations will take from what we leave and how they will reshape their world and even, their Judaism. By everything we do, and in everything we have done, we have written our teaching, the teaching of our own life experience on the alter of our existence. How will it be judged? What of it will our children and grandchildren take? These are question for these holidays for they are, truly, questions of life itself; questions of what our Judaism means for us and what it may mean for thoise who follow.
Rabbi Richard F. Address