Our day-to-day choices usually aren’t as dramatic as blessings versus curses or life versus death, but the message we take away from this week’s Torah portion is that even seemingly inconsequential decisions can affect our lives in meaningful ways.
As the parent of a young child, I find that my world moves at a breakneck pace. To get out the door on time in the morning means that we have a system in place that works like a well-oiled machine. We’re basically a relay team. Shiri gets up, I feed her while Duncan showers and dresses, then he dresses Shiri while I walk the dog. I then spend a few more minutes with Shiri while Duncan finishes getting ready, and somehow we all end up out the door and on our way to work and school. From the minute Shiri wakes up it’s like a mad dash of events, and there is no stopping it . . . usually. Once in a while, I’ll see an amazing sunrise on my walk, or catch a glimpse of the thirty or so ducks that live in the pond behind our neighborhood, and I have to stop for a moment to take it in. When that happens, I know I risk throwing the whole schedule off, but I’m convinced it’s important enough to stop, look, and enjoy.
So much of life is spent running from activity to activity, from experience to experience, without having the time to stop and take in the world around us. The frenetic life that we’re leading can sometimes be necessary to get us through our daily moments, but it also seems that it might cause us to miss out on a daily blessing.
This week we read parshat Ki Tavo, the section of the Torah that continues to remind the reader of the blessings and curses that come to us as we choose to follow or ignore the laws of the Torah. Specifically we learn of the requirement to make an offering of first fruits for the priests in the Beit HaMikdash, and the different ways in which we are supposed to thank God and give praise (before prayer was daily). Finally, the text reminds us of how we’re supposed to take the opportunity to rebuke one another when we’ve taken a misstep and the ways in which we can do so with compassion and kindness.
In particular, chapter 28, verse 2 reminds us of the casualty that often comes with our hectic lives. “All these blessings shall come upon you and take effect, if you will but heed the word of the Lord your God.” In other words, there are blessings in our everyday life that God intends for us to see, but our busy, nonstop lives mean that the blessings cannot catch up to us. The commentator HaEmek Davar teaches that perhaps instead of chasing after fulfillment, we should slow down and let the good things in life catch up to us.
Parshat Ki Tavo reminds us that in our comings and goings it is equally important to stop, take in the world, and allow everything to settle and slow for even just a moment every day. That, friends, is the special window that finally lets the blessing in.
How do you handle criticism? Our Torah portion suggests that a rebuke has inherent value if you can use it to learn and grow.
As someone who has been in school or working in schools for much of my adult life, I know firsthand there is something simultaneously magical and infuriating about the first day of school. I’m so excited I usually can’t sleep the night before. I jump up awake at 4:00 a.m., ready to go face the day, the year, and the newness of it all. What a blessing to be so eager, so excited to jump feet first into everything that lies ahead. At the same time, when there’s something I’m dreading doing, I tend to sleep really well, confident that I’ll be able to successfully put off or avoid this dreaded task. And that’s typical of life. When we face something fun, exhilarating, or new, we’re often eager to jump in and get started.
This holds true for our Jewish life too. The Torah teaches us that we are expected to rush to do mitzvot as soon as we’re permitted to do them. This is why a bris most often takes place first thing in the morning, and why as soon as Yom Kippur is over we’re supposed to rush home to put up our sukkah. The thrill and excitement of these events propels us forward to eagerly complete our tasks.
This week parshat Ki Teitzei shares a number of laws to govern society. We receive laws about war and taking care of hostages, laws about our clothing, laws about family relationships, parents and children, taking care of the poor and so much more. Ki Teitzei is actually the Torah portion with the most number of mitzvot within it, but the recurring theme is the desire and ways in which we should execute the mitzvot prescribed to us.
Chapter 21, verse 23 teaches, “You must not let his corpse remain on the stake overnight, but must bury him the same day.” While this verse is talking about someone who is impaled for committing a crime, the sentiment remains true for all our dead. To avoid desecration of the dead, we bury them as soon after the death as possible. However, to honor the dead, burial can be postponed to enable relatives to attend the funeral, or even to allow their organs to be donated.
In the case of a burial, we rush to perform the mitzvah, but obviously we’re not necessarily glad or excited to do it. Here our religious world and our emotional world collide. The beauty of this verse is that we are commanded not only to rush to perform a mitzvah that might not be a happy one, we are also shown the importance of treating each person in our community, regardless of their social status, with the same dignity and respect.
Ours is a feet-first religion. We rush to bury so that we can begin mourning, and we rush to name so we can begin celebrating. The common theme is that Judaism demands that we dive in.
Know any stubborn and rebellious children? This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, is for you.