Parashat Ki Tavo

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 · Posted in , , , ,

Devarim 26:1 - 29:8
Haftarah: Yeshayahu 60:1 - 22

[Ki Tavo, art by Yoram Raanan] 

Parsha Summary

Law of Bikkurim
Law of Tithes
Reward for Keeping G-d's Commands
Building a Stone Altar for G-d
Jews Become a Nation
Mt. Eval and Mt. Gerizim
The Curse of Idolatry
The Curse of Disrespect for Parents
The Curse of Moving a Boundary
The Curse of Tripping the Blind
The Curse of Perverting Justice
The Curse of Violating a Father's Wife
The Curse of Violating a Sister
The Curse of Striking a Neighbor in Secret
The Curse of the Fatal Bribe
The Curse of Failing to Uphold the Torah
Blessing of Following G-d's Word
The Evil Which Will Befall Us for Sins
The Covenant at Chorev
Forty Years of G-d's Leadership in the Desert

Devarim 26:2 Take from the first of every fruit of the earth that you will bring from the land which Hashem, your G-d, gives you. Place it in a basket and go to the place which Hashem will choose for His Name to dwell.

Let "the first" bring of the first, to the first, to the first place, to the First of all.

The Midrash means: Let the first - the Jewish people, of whom it says, "Holy is Yisrael to Hashem, the first fruits of His produce" (Yirmeyahu 2:3)

bring the first - fruits

to the first - to the Kohanim, who is the first and foremost in the service of the Beit HaMikdash

to the first place - the Beit HaMikdash

to the First of all - G-d, of Whom it says, "I, Hashem, am first and with the last, I am He" (Yeshayahu 31:3).

The Torah calls the Jewish people and the Beit HaMikdash "first," even though they did not exist at the beginning of Creation. However, G-d conceived their existence even before Creation (because the world was created for their sake). According to S'fat Emet, Benei Yisrael are termed "first" because they acknowledge and lead others to believe in the "First," Hashem.

By fulfilling the mitzvah of bikkurim, bringing the first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash, we confirm our belief that the Land and its produce belong to G-d, Who is our Master. We express gratitude for the bounty which we enjoy and demonstrate that our livelihood is given to us because of His providence and concern for us.

  [Picture from Midrash Says]

27:11-13 On that day, Moshe gave the following instructions: When you cross the Yarden, the ones who will stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people are Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin. The ones who will stand on Mount Eval for the curse are Re'uven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali.

The command to declare the blessing and the curse to the people on these two mountains is first mentioned in Devarim 11:29-31. Yehoshua 833 explains:

All Yisrael, their elders, officers, and their judges, stood on either side of the Ark before the Levitical priests, who bore the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem.. half of them against Mount Gerizim and half of them against Mount Eval.

The first six Tribes climbed to the top of Mount Gerizim, and the second six, to the top of Mount Eval. The Ark was placed in the valley between the two mountains. The priests stood in a circle surrounding the Ark, while the Leviim made a larger circle encompassing them. They turned to Mount Gerizim to recite the blessing, and to Mount Eval to recite the curse. After each pronouncement, the Tribes answered "Amein" (Sotah 32a)

Sotah 37a offers another interpretation, that the word עַל (al) translated as "on" can also be rendered as "next to." The Tribes did not ascend the mountains. Rather, they stood in the valley close to them.

Ibn Ezra notes that the Tribes who ascended Mount Gerizim were all sons of Rachel and Leah, Yaakov's primary wives. The descendants of his concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, stood on Mount Eval. Nevertheless, to balance the number of Tribes on each peak, Reuven and Zevulun, the eldest and youngest of Leah's sons, joined them.

Rabbenu Bachya adds another reason for Re'uven's position on Mount Eval. The sixth curse is, "Cursed be he who lies with his father's wife." Had Reuven, in fact, violated Bilhah, as appears from the narrative in Bereishit 35:22, he would not have answered to that curse.  His positive response served as public testimony to his innocence (see also Yalkut Shimeoni 157).

The Tribe of Shimon stood on Mount Gerizim. In his final blessings to the people, Moshe ignored Shimon entirely (see Devarim 33:7, 8). Had he been placed on the mountain of the curse, his future would have been irrevocably damned (Rabbenu Bachya).

Our verse mention Levi as one of the Tribes standing on Mount Gerizim. The narrative in Yehoshua and in Sotah 32a relates that the Leviim stood in the center, surrounding the Ark, and recited the blessings and curses.

Sotah 37a resolves the difficulty. The younger Leviim, or, alternatively, those unfit for service in the Sanctuary, ascended Mount Gerizim, while the others remained below.

The Torah uses a different phraseology for the blessing and for the curse. The first six Tribes are commanded "to bless the nation," implying eagerness on G-d's part. In contrast, the latter six are commanded to "stand on Mount Eval for the curse," implying a lack of desire (Midrash Tanchumah, Balak 12. See also Keli Yakar).

27:14 The Leviim shall then speak up and say the following to every Yisraeli man in a loud voice.

As mentioned above, the Leviim stood between the two mountains and recited the blessings and the curses.

The word עָנוּ (anu), translated as "speak up," implies that the Leviim statements were made in Hebrew, quoting the following verses exactly (Sotah 33a).

קוֹל רָם (kol ram), "in a loud voice," can be figuratively interpreted as "in the voice of the Most High." G-d joined the Leviim in their pronouncements (Talmud Yerushalmi, Sotah 7:2)

Alternatively, it can be rendered as "in a refined tone." The Leviim did not shout the blessings and the curses. They pronounced them in a tone which was loud enough to be heard, but soft enough to be pleasant (ibid.).

- Midrash Says
- Me'am Lo'ez

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