Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 through 29:8) continues in most respects, the theme of blessing and curse that is such a major part of the book’s substance. The portion begins by stating the theme in the context of agriculture and moves on to discuss aspects of these blessings and curses in the context of entering Canaan. Moses, in 27:1, speaks in consort with the ziknia Israel, the elders, to reinforce the message that following God’s word will being blessing and deviation will bring curse. Notice that Moses draws on the “elders”, him being one of them, to stand with him. One commentary reminded us that it will be elders who would be in the best position to maintain Moses’s message after his death. (Etz Hayim. p. 1144)
With just a short time until the New Year, many of us begin to reflect upon our role in what life in the year to come will mean. Continuing and building a legacy is an awesome responsibility. It is easy to get lost in that calling. It is easy to forget to take time to find joy in the moment. This idea jumped out to me in doing some reading for this week’s portion. Rabbi Jonathan Saks, in his “Essays on Ethics”, looked at Ki Tavo as a message about joy. He looked at the use of the root s, m , ch and where and how it appeared in Torah. It appears int his week’s portion in the context of curses (28:47). Saks goes on to discuss the difference between happiness and joy saying that “Happiness is an attitude to life as a whole, while joy lives in the moment. Happiness is something you pursue. But joy is not. It discovers you. It has to do with a sense of connection to other people or to God…It is a social emotion. It is the exhilaration we feel when we merge with others. It is the redemption of solitude”. (313) Here is a great message for us as we enter the New Year. How often do we allow the moment to speak to us? How often do we, in an unexpected encounter, a moment of reflection or reaction, find joy in just being alive. We have prayers that celebrate these moments, but how often do we speak them? To find joy in moments of living is, really, to be blessed.
Rabbi Dena Weiss, of Hadar, wrote on this idea of being blessed. She noted that to be blessed is “to feel at ease, to feel protected and secure”. It is a “feeling of satisfaction, the freedom from the need to evaluate or praise, criticize or complain”. That is a blessing and the feeling of joy that we experience in those often unexpected moments of life are blessings, the small blessings that bring meaning to existence and texture to life. So Ki Tavo may teach us that in this about to dawn new year of 5779, we need to allow ourselves to be open to the joy of life, the joy of being “in the moment”, to savor those moments of joy, which are blessings. That may be why we are called to recite upon waking the Modeh Ani blessing which allows us to give thanks that we have been given another gift of a day, another moment to find our joy and to seek and be a blessing.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.