Thoughts on Parashat Ki Tavo

This week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26.1 – 29.8 (9 in English),[i] is best known for Moshe’s lengthy declaration of the blessings and curses that are the natural result of obedience or disobedience to the mitzvot of ADONAI (28.1 – 68). The parasha begins however, with two essential things that had to be dealt with when entering into the Land. First, Bnei Yisrael was to bring a portion of the first produce of the land to the priests as an act of gratitude for Hashem’s blessing (26.1-2). There are two things to note about this offering. First, Rashi interprets this as happening after Hashem has driven out the inhabitants, and Bnei Yisrael has settled in peace, recognizing ADONAI’s provision and care. Second, is that the importance of this offering is in recognizing that Hashem is the one who blesses and gives the increase, not only of the produce of the land but in all aspects of life (26.5-10).

The second important issue covered is the tithe of the produce that is to be set aside to be given “to the Levite, to the outsider, to the orphan and to the widow, so that they may eat within your town gates and be satisfied” (26.12). Three weeks ago, in Re’eh, Moshe reminded the people

However, there should be no poor among you, for Adonai will surely bless you in the land Adonai your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess. If only you would carefully listen to the voice of Adonai your God, being careful to do all these mitzvah that I am commanding you today! (Deuteronomy 15.4-5)

Social justice and care for the poor and needy, are intrinsically tied to Judaism through Hashem’s self-revelation of His character and His expectations of His chosen people. The conditions of this fallen world breed want and need, poverty and despair. But Hashem prepared a solution for tikkun olam, for the repair of the world. He desires to pour out His blessings on His people, not for their betterment alone, but so that through those blessings “to the Levite, to the outsider, to the orphan and to the widow, so that they may eat within your town gates and be satisfied.” But this tikkun olam is not contingent upon the needs. Rather it is contingent upon the LORD’s people following His commandments. This week’s parasha ends with, “So keep the words of this covenant and do them, so that you may prosper in all that you do” (29.8; 9 in English). In the Apostolic Writings, John wrote to his community

We know that we love God’s children by this—when we love God and obey His commandments. For this is the love of God—that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For everyone born of God overcomes the world. And the victory that has overcome the world is this—our faith. (1 John 5.2-4)

We overcome the world, not because of our innate strength or righteousness. We overcome the world because we are the children of God and as His children; we obey (do) and we keep (guard) His commandments. Also, according to John, those commandments are not burdensome or hard. In next week’s parasha, Nitzavim, we will read

For this mitzvah that I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far off. (Deuteronomy 30.11)

This seems to agree with John’s assessment that the commandments of the LORD are not burdensome or hard, but doable by those who love Him.

One comment on the curses listed in this parasha. Often, the last of the twelve curses pronounced from Mt. Ebal – “Cursed is the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah by doing them” (27.26) – is connected with Rav Shaul’s warning to the Galatians, “For all who rely on the deeds of Torah are under a curse—for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep doing everything written in the scroll of the Torah” (Galatians 3.10). If John says that keeping the commandments is a result of loving Hashem, and Moshe affirmed that the “mitzvah… is not too difficult,” then what is Shaul actually saying? Neither within traditional Judaism or in our Messianic faith in Yeshua, are we kept secure by the מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה, “deeds of Torah” but rather we are kept secure by the One who called us and set us apart unto Him. The deeds of the Torah, keeping His commandments, are an out working of our existing relationship with the LORD.

In Va’eira, before the Exodus and before Sinai, Hashem told Moshe,

Therefore, say to Bnei-Yisrael: I am Adonai, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am Adonai your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6.6-7)

Israel was the people of God before Sinai, Sinai just sealed the covenant, the choice that Hashem had already made. But it is the מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה, deeds of Torah that show the world to whom we belong – when we care for the poor and needy, the sick and destitute – and not just those who are like us. Yeshua took the letter of the Torah and expanded it to incorporate all of creation.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than anyone else? Even the pagans do that, don’t they? Therefore, be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5.43-48)

The Haftarah, Isaiah 60.1-22, is the sixth of seven Haftarot of Consolation read between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. This week’s reading, more than many others depicts the hoped for Messianic Age when the pain and memory of the exile will be removed, and the glory of the Kingdom of God will be realized. From the very beginning the Haftarah blends together with both the Torah and the Apostolic Writings.

Arise, shine, for your light has come! The glory of Adonai has risen on you. For behold, darkness covers the earth, and deep darkness the peoples. But Adonai will arise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, kings to the brilliance of your rising. (Isaiah 60.1-3)

The glory of the LORD will arise over Israel and the light of that glory will draw the nations to the light. Again, it is not to the glory of Israel, but the glory of the God of Israel that draws the nations to the light. There will come a day, and may it be soon, that all Israel will “keep the words of this covenant and do them, so that [we all] may prosper in all that [we] do” (Deuteronomy 29.8) and so we shall all “be perfect (שלם),[ii] just as [our] Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5.48).

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] To be finished, be completed; be at peace; derived from Kohlenberger/Mounce Concise Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament edited by John R. Kohlenberger III and William D. Mounce, Copyright © 2012 by William D. Mounce. Accordance edition hypertexted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.7