Reliving Sinai Every Day

Reliving Sinai Every Day

Aug 27, 2021 By Alisa Tzipi Zilbershtein | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with Moses addressing B’nei Yisrael: “The Lord your God commands you this day to observe these laws and rules; observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul. You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your God, that you will walk in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that you will obey Him” (Deut. 26:16–17). During my years at JTS, one of the themes that always captivated me was the mystical understanding of the concept of time in the Torah. That is why my attention was immediately drawn to this quote. The specific timeframe “this day” occurs twice here and is repeated multiple times in the parashah. What does “this day” mean? Or rather, when is “this day”?

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Joy Is a Radical Act

Joy Is a Radical Act

Sep 4, 2020 By Benjamin Freed | Commentary | Ki Tavo

“Art is a radical act. Joy is a radical act.”
—Rebecca Makkai, The World’s on Fire. Can We Still Talk About Books?

A few weeks ago, my fiancée and I re-watched the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out, where anthropomorphized emotions work together and compete to control the feelings and actions of an 11-year-old named Riley. One of the primary lessons is that unchecked “Joy” cannot by itself bring true happiness or properly prepare us for handling life’s more difficult moments. Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust all play a role in making us who we are, and we ignore those emotions at our own risk. As someone who strongly identifies with Amy Poehler’s peppy and unrelentingly optimistic “Joy” character, this message is both sobering and powerful.

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Speaking God, Speaking Humanity

Speaking God, Speaking Humanity

Sep 20, 2019 By Lilly Kaufman | Commentary | Ki Tavo

What makes the Jews God’s people? On Yom Kippur, when we sing Ki anu amekha ve’atah Elohenu (For we are Your people and You are our God), what are we talking about? Is this triumphalism, elitism, exclusivity? Or could it be an ethic of communal, legislated kindness?

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First Fruits, New Thoughts: A Pilgrim Reflects on the First Fruits Ritual

First Fruits, New Thoughts: A Pilgrim Reflects on the First Fruits Ritual

Aug 31, 2018 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Peace be with you, friend! My name is Micah; I hail from Anav. And you? Shemaryahu, from Jericho, you say; a Benjaminite, then. Well, if you don’t mind sharing the road with a Judahite let’s walk together.

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The Blessing of Curses: A Rosh Hashanah Puzzle

The Blessing of Curses: A Rosh Hashanah Puzzle

Sep 20, 2017 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Ki Tavo | Rosh Hashanah | Shabbat Shuvah

Here’s a puzzle for us to think about as we consider the spiritual work that we need to engage in over the remaining days until Yom Kippur: The Talmud tells us—in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar—that Ezra the Scribe decreed that, for all time, the Jewish people would read the blessings and curses in Leviticus (Parashat Behukkotai) prior to the holiday of Shavuot and those of Deuteronomy (Parashat Ki Tavo) before Rosh Hashanah (BT Megillah 31b). This decree is strange. Reading these graphic and threatening chapters, which detail the good that will come if we are faithful to God and the suffering that will be wrought if we forsake our relationship with God, is difficult at any time. Why insist that we read them publicly as we ready ourselves to celebrate these joyous holidays?

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Curses and Blessings

Curses and Blessings

Sep 8, 2017 By Galeet Dardashti | Commentary | Ki Tavo

I just recorded this riff/improvisation on a Moroccan rendition of the piyyut “Ahot Ketanah.” The piyyut (liturgical hymn)—particularly beloved by Sephardim as the first piece sung for Rosh Hashanah—references Ki Tavo’s many curses and pleads that this year’s curses come to an end. When I chant it for the High Holidays, the entire kahal holds the drone underneath. The Talmud (BT Megillah 31b) explains that Parashat Ki Tavo ends with incessant curses so that we leave them behind and begin the New Year with only blessings.

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White Supremacism and Jewish Chosenness

White Supremacism and Jewish Chosenness

Sep 8, 2017 By Hillel Ben Sasson | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Only a month has passed since the horrifying marches of white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the repugnant images and voices from that weekend refuse to fade away. More than anything else, this event reminds us all that hatred toward minorities in general and Jews in particular has never been completely eradicated, and might never be. Yet it also compels us to return to our own idea of the chosen people, and to examine whether our particularism is necessarily a chauvinistic one, as so many have argued over the course of time, from Haman to the present day. 

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Everyone on the Team

Everyone on the Team

Sep 23, 2016 By Craig Scheff | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Everyone on the team, from the manager to the coach, from a secretary to an owner, has a role to fulfill. That role is valuable if the team is to come close to reaching its potential. The leader must understand this. Every single member of your team needs to feel wanted and appreciated. If they are on the team, they deserve to be valued and to feel valued. Do you want someone on the team who doesn’t feel necessary and appreciated? How do they find out unless you let them know?

—John Wooden and Steve Jamison, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court

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What It Means to Enjoy

What It Means to Enjoy

Sep 23, 2016 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Ki Tavo

At one of our Shabbat afternoon Talmud classes some 50 years ago, after the usual bout of eating, drinking, and singing, the topic under discussion was what it means to “enjoy” Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Festivals). We discussed Rabbi Eliezer’s statement that Festival “rejoicing” is obligatory, as well as the two alternative ways he proffers for attaining pleasure: either by eating and drinking or by sitting and studying. Rabbi Joshua interjects that it should be half of one and half of the other (BT Pesahim 68b).

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Call and Response

Call and Response

Sep 17, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Ki Tavo

While many know that a debate over the role of Hebrew in prayer led to the birth of Conservative Judaism, fewer realize that this question actually first arose with our ancient Sages 2,000 years ago.

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