Blog: September 2006

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Ki Tavo: national and personal

Much of the book of D'varim has been a long list of commandments and other reminders for b'nei Yisrael. Last week's parsha had the largest concentration in the entire book. This week's parsha describes the blessings that will result if we keep these commandments and the many curses that will result if we do not.

Amidst all of this is the instruction to write the whole torah on stones when the people enter the land. Is this to prove their loyalty? Is this because the people will stray if it's not right in front of them like that?

Maybe both of those, but I think there's another reason too. The act is a public, national declaration: we as a people place value in this torah, enough to proclaim it in permanent structures. It's a declaration not meant just for us, the way reading the torah in our synagogues is; instead, anyone who comes into the land will see these stones, this declaration from the entire community of Israel.

But for all that this is a national act, I noticed something when preparing this portion. While Moshe often speaks to the people with plural verbs, almost every use of the word "God" in the aliya I read [rivi'i] is followed by "elohecha" -- your God, in the singular, like in the v'ahavta. [1] The people as a whole must proclaim the torah, but we, singly, are using that act to connect with God.

We are halfway through Elul, the month of preparation leading up to the high holy days. The upcoming holy-day liturgy is full of grand, national images of God -- the God who creates the whole world and rules over it and judges all of creation. We confess our sins communally, not singly, in this liturgy. In all of this, it can be easy to lose track of the personal God, "elohai" instead of "eloheinu". But if we don't connect with God on an individual level, we miss the real point of the high holy days -- to reflect, assess, and make changes.

In this season, may we all find ways to reach God indivudally as well as communally.

[1] The one exception is when it says, instead, "the God of your (singular) fathers".

On a different note: the fourth aliya begins "Moshe and the elders of Israel commanded...", and later we get "Moshe and the kohanim said...". I haven't verified with a concordance, but I think those are both singletons. Most of the time it's just "Moshe said..."; occasionally "Moshe and Aharon", and I'm not actually sure if we ever get "Moshe and Eleazar" or "Moshe and Yehoshua". I wonder what adding the elders and the kohanim at this point in D'varim means. I speculate that it is part of legitimizing the next generation, the ones who'll be running things after Moshe is gone. It's one thing for him to ceremonially invest Yehoshua and Eleazar with authority; it's perhaps a stronger statement to have them actually up there with him when giving final instructions. Just a thought. (Aside: is Yehoshua one of the ziknei Yisrael, the elders? I guess I've been assuming he is.)