By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Parshat Ki Tavo
18 Elul 5764 - September 3-4, 2004
It is unbearable to read or hear the
Tochecha, the passage of reproof that forms the largest part of our Parshah (Devarim
Hashem will strike you with consumption and with fever, and with inflammation,
and with dryness and with thirst, and with wasting and with jaundice, and they
will pursue you until you perish (verse 22).
Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, and your eyes
shall see and languish for them all day long, and your hand shall lack the
power (verse 32).
Hashem will raise against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth,
just as an eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you will not understand
And you will eat the fruit of your belly, the flesh of your sons and daughters
which Hashem, your G-d, has given you, in the siege and distress that your
enemies will aggrieve you (verse 53).
The descriptions of disease, drought, defeat and despoilment are unrelenting.
In contrast, in the previous Tochecha (Vayikra 26:14-46), which could reach
levels of severity that are no less disturbing, there is at least some relief
Nevertheless, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not have
rejected them, nor will I have abhorred them, to destroy them, to break My
covenant with them, for I am Hashem, their G-d (verse 44).
But the Tochecha of Devarim intensifies
without abatement. According to many commentaries (see Ramban and Haamek Davar,
R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893), the Tochecha of Vayikra prefigures
the exile after the destruction of the First Temple, which eventually came to
an end, while the Tochecha of Devarim refers to the sins leading up to the
destruction of the Second Temple and its aftermath — the exile, which still
Most disturbing here is the expulsion:
…and you will be torn away from upon the land which you are coming to possess.
And Hashem will scatter you among all the nations, from one end of the earth
to the other end of the earth, and there you will serve the gods of others of
which you and your fathers have not known, of wood and stone. And among those
nations you will not be calm, nor shall there be a resting place for the sole
of your foot. And Hashem will give you there a trembling heart, and longing of
eyes, and distress of soul. And your life ahead of you will be uncertain, and
you shall be afraid night and day, and you will have no confidence in your
life -- In the morning you will say, “O that it were evening!” and in the
evening you will say, “O that it were morning!” – from the fear of your heart
that you will fear and from the sight of your eyes which you shall see (verses
Our commentaries explain this disquieting passage:
– you will not be calm, nor shall there be a resting place for the sole of
Haamek Davar explains: you will neither feel at ease, nor will you be allowed
to remain in one place.
Hirsch (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888) says:
“You will never become absorbed into the nations to be considered as being
entitled to completely equal rights.”
– a trembling heart, and longing of eyes, and distress of soul
“You will have everything to fear for the future, [and therefore] can have no
pleasure in the present, and have only painful memories of the past.”
– and you shall be afraid night and day, and you will have no confidence in
your life… from the fear of your heart
Haamek Davar: Even during those periods of history when you are not actually
persecuted, you will nonetheless be plagued by imagined fears.
A variety of insights into the psychological state of exile is brought to bear
on the following image:
In the morning you will say, “ O that it were evening!” and in the evening you
will say, “O that it were morning!”
The commentaries ask, is the evening or
morning before, or after? Rashi sees this as a declaration of nostalgia for
the previous time period, because every day is worse than the day before.
Others, such as Rashbam, say it refers to the following evening or morning. To
Saadiah Gaon (882-942), the refugees express a desire for nothing more than to
be able to live until the night or day to follow; life in exile is degrading,
with no loftier aspirations or goals than mere survival. Hirsch puts it this
“When morn comes you will be so anxious about what the day may bring for you
that you will wish it were already evening and the day lived through.”
The question remains, is there no alleviation of this suffering, no solace on
Perhaps the answer lies in the condition of exile itself. History has shown
that the Shechina follows the Jewish People into exile, helping us, and the
Torah, to survive. The great danger is comfort in exile, when galut, an
undesired existential state, becomes “Diaspora,” which describes geographic
location neutrally, even advantageously. In the scathing words of Meshech
Chochmah (R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk 1843-1926) on the Tochecha in Vayikra
“If the Jew thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem … then a raging storm wind will
uproot him by his trunk … a tempest will arise and spread its roaring waves,
and swallow, and destroy, and flood forth without pity.”
you will not be calm, nor shall there be a resting place for the sole of your
is a blessing, for as long as the Jewish People are uncomfortable in exile,
they will yearn to return to their homeland. This is echoed in the words of
the author of the Kuzari, R. Yehuda Halevi (1085-1140), who wrote in his poem:
“My heart is in the East,
And I am in the ends of the West.”
It is this hope that has kept the Jewish People alive, and will prompt Hashem
to fulfill His Covenant.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Parshat Ki Tavo
The ceremony of bringing bikurim to the Temple served
as a catalyst to reinforce the feeling of unity. The Mishna (Bikurim
3:2-3) describes how the farmers of a particular region would gather in
the central town to bring their bikurim to Jerusalem together. As the
farmers reached Jerusalem, the capital’s shopkeepers and professionals
would go out to greet them.
It is, of course, of great significance that bikurim were brought to the
Temple. Bringing bikurim is an expression of the farmer’s awareness of his
partnership with God. Recognizing his status as God’s junior partner, he
delivers the first ripened fruit to the true land owner in His “home”.
There is another aspect of bringing bikurim to Jerusalem. The farmer takes
the beginning of his harvest to the national and spiritual center of the
Land of Israel. In so doing, the farmer acknowledges himself as part of
the whole. He has toiled throughout the agricultural season not only for
his own gain, but on behalf of all his brothers and sisters living in the
Holy Land. The lawyers, psychologists and shopkeepers of Jerusalem came
out to greet the farmers as they arrived in Jerusalem with their bikurim (Mishna,
Bikurim 3:3) as a way of expressing their appreciation of all the hard
labor invested by the farmers in order to feed them.
The national aspect of bringing bikurim is most pronounced in the
ceremonial recitation which accompanied bringing bikurim to the altar
(Deuteronomy 26:5-10). The farmer surveys Israel’s history, reciting the
entire passage in the plural. Only upon completing the historical review
does the farmer move to the singular “and now, behold I have brought of
the first fruit of the Land which you, God have given me ...” (Deuteronomy
26:10). The verses present the appropriate perspective: the farmer (or an
Israelite of any profession) must relate to himself first as part of the
community, and only then may he see himself as an individual.
The next verse confirms this approach: “And you shall rejoice with all the
good which God, your God has given you and to your house, you and the
Levite and the stranger in your midst” (Deuteronomy 26:11). Ideally, the
individual rejoices as part of Klal Yisrael, the totality of Israel.
A member of Aloh Naaleh , Jerusalem.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254