The Lesson of the First Fruits

The Lesson of the First Fruits

Sep 20, 2008 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Remarkably, no pedestrian injuries have been recorded to date.

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Raising the Bar

Raising the Bar

Sep 24, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo showcases the creativity of the rabbinic sages and offers a unique challenge to enhance our Jewish learning. The Torah reading opens with a declaration that each farmer had to say when he brought the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple, giving gratitude for the fruit, and ultimately recognizing the God who made his livelihood possible. The Israelite would recite a lengthy passage, a synopsis of Jewish history, beginning, “A wandering Aramean was my father” and ending, “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore now I bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me” (Deuteronomy 26:5–10).

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The Language of the Jewish People

The Language of the Jewish People

Sep 24, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Ki Tavo

The owner of the mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse we rented for August has a well-tended orchard of diverse fruit trees.

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Fear or Love?

Fear or Love?

Sep 4, 2004 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Ki Tavo

By Rabbi Howard Stecker (RS’ 92)

Given the complex nature of religious life, how can we most effectively communicate religious instruction? This question occupies rabbis, educators and parents alike. While the Torah contains no explicit discussion of educational methodology, the attempt to transmit religious teachings goes back to our earliest history and is the central theme of the series of parshiyot before the High Holidays.

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Shattering Our Idols

Shattering Our Idols

Sep 4, 2004 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tavo | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Judaism tantalizes the senses with the sights, sounds and fragrant smells that characterize its observance. Rosh Hashanah is certainly one of those times when we are overwhelmed by the richness of Jewish symbolism. At the heart of our New Year observances, however, lies the piercing cry of the shofar. What is the meaning of the shofar? Many explanations have been offered to explain why we blow the shofar during the month of Elul into Rosh Hashanah, and at the close of Yom Kippur. Included in these interpretations are the following: it signifies creation, specifically of the beginning of God’s kingship, it is meant to remind us to hearken to the blasts echoing from God’s revelation at Sinai, it links us to the binding of Isaac since the shofar is a symbol for the ram caught in the thicket by its horns that ultimately is offered to God in place of Isaac; and, that the sharp sound of the shofar is to be understood to be a call to teshuvah, repentance.

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Moments of Transition

Moments of Transition

Sep 13, 2003 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Liminal moments are often marked by meaningful ceremonies. A baby is welcomed into the covenant of the Jewish people through a simhat bat or brit milah ceremony. Children celebrate becoming a bar or bat mitzvah by being called to the Torah. Marriage is marked by a ritual of kiddushin (sanctification) under the huppah. So too are such moments ritualized in the annual Jewish calendar. One need only think of the coming High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — to be reminded of the special rituals that transition us into the new year (the sounding of the shofar, tashlikh, and the ascetic laws in observance of Yom Kippur).

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Hebrew’s Answer to Life’s Deepest Riddle

Hebrew’s Answer to Life’s Deepest Riddle

Sep 13, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Ki Tavo

The Bible’s most famous riddle was the brainchild of Samson. “Out of the eater came something to eat; out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:14). Samson posed it on the occasion of his seven-day wedding feast to thirty young Philistine men who came to celebrate his marriage to one of their own. On the last day, the young men responded gleefully: “What is sweeter than honey, and what is stronger than a lion?” Dismayed, Samson accused them of coercing his bride: “Had you not plowed with my heifer, you would not have guessed my riddle.” And indeed, threatened by them with savage revenge, she had wheedled the answer out of Samson, only to betray him, exactly as Delilah would do later in his life.

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“Into the Woods” and into Elul

“Into the Woods” and into Elul

Aug 24, 2002 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Ki Tavo

“Once upon a time in a far-off kingdom, lived a young maiden, a sad young lad, and a childless bakery” thus opens the story that develops into Stephen Sondheim’s current revival on Broadway, Into the Woods. Cleverly weaving our classic fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, Sondheim composes a fable with classic, yet new significance. He begins with the foundation of the moral lessons of the children’s fairy tales like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk, and builds upon them by watching as their characters interact with one another.

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“The World Belongs to God”

“The World Belongs to God”

Aug 24, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Ki Tavo | Pesah | Rosh Hashanah

The month of Elul is a time for preparation for the High Holy Days. Some industrious hosts and hostesses are already making tzimmes and putting it in the freezer. Other kinds of preparations are being made, too– studying, thinking about and discussing the themes and meanings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur so that these holidays are not just repetitions of prior years. Even our weekly Torah readings, seemingly disconnected from anything to do with the High Holy Days, can be read through Elul eyeglasses.

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An Uneasy Relationship with the God of History

An Uneasy Relationship with the God of History

Sep 16, 2000 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Ki Tavo

The Hebrew adjective for being ungrateful is kefui tovah. The idiom stresses the willfulness of the sentiment. The situation calls for an expression of gratitude and we squelch the impulse. The word kefui is related to the word kefiah as in the phrase current in contemporary Israeli politics, kefiah datit – religious coercion, both forms deriving from the root kafah, to suppress. The language makes it clear that saying thanks does not come naturally. We are reluctant to acknowledge a favor that might reveal our need or shortcoming. And so the Torah institutionalizes a thanksgiving ritual, though an unusual one.

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Torah and Livelihood

Torah and Livelihood

Sep 20, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Among the cascade of curses that pour forth in Parashat Ki Tavo, one in particular grabs my attention this year, not because of the vividness of its brutality (others surpass it), but because of its later application in a talmudic dispute. Our reading of a text is often a function of what we have on our mind. I refer to a fairly generic articulation of the fate of national subjugation: “Because you would not serve the Lord your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything, you shall have to serve – in hunger and thirst, naked and lacking everything – the enemies whom the Lord will let loose against you… (Deuteronomy 28:47–48). The phrase “ve–avadeta et oyvekha – you shall have to serve your enemies” is the link to a discussion in the Talmud about the issue of just how much of our lives are we expected to devote to the study of Torah.

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Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo

Jan 1, 1980

1 When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name. 

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Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo

Jan 1, 1980

1 Arise, shine, for your light has dawned;
The Presence of the Lord has shone upon you!

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