The Torah/Ki Tavo

Summary edit

offerings of thanksgiving (illustration from a Bible card published between 1896 and 1913 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

As told in Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8, this is the story of the Torah reading Ki Tavo:

First fruits edit

Moses directed the Israelites that when they entered the land that God was giving them, they were to take some of every first fruit of the soil that they harvested, put it in a basket, and take it to the place God would choose. There they were to go to the priest in charge and acknowledge that they had entered the land that God swore to their fathers. The priest was to set the basket down in front of the altar. They were then to recite:

"A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. And He has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, that You, O Lord, have given me." [1]

They were to leave the basket before the altar, bow low to God, and then feast on and enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger, the bounty that God had given them.

Tithes edit

When they had given the tenth part of their yield to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, in the third year, the year of the tithe, they were to declare before God:

“‘I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to Your commandment that You have commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Your commandments, neither have I forgotten them. I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I put away thereof, being unclean, nor given thereof for the dead; I have hearkened to the voice of the Lord my God, I have done according to all that You have commanded me. Look from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the land that You have given us, as You swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.” [2]

a large stone inscribed with the law code of Hammurabi

Observing the law edit

Moses exhorted the Israelites to observe these laws faithfully with all their heart and soul, noting that they had affirmed that the Lord was their God and that they would obey God. And God affirmed that the Israelites were God’s treasured people, and that God would set them high above all the nations in fame and glory, and that they would be a holy people to God.

Moses and the elders charged the people that as soon as they had crossed the Jordan River, they were to set up large stones on Mount Ebal, coat them with plaster, and inscribe on them all the words of the Torah. There they were also to build an altar to God made of stones on which no iron tool had struck, and they were to offer on it offerings to God and rejoice.

Moses and the priests told all Israel to hear: They had become the people of God, and should heed God and observe God’s commandments.

Blessings and curses edit

Moses charged the people that after they had crossed the Jordan, the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin were to stand on Mount Gerizim when the blessings were spoken, and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphthali were to stand on Mount Ebal when the curses were spoken. The Levites were then loudly to curse anyone who: made a sculptured image; insulted father or mother; moved a fellow countryman’s landmark; misdirected a blind person; subverted the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow; lay with his father’s wife; lay with any beast; lay with his sister; lay with his mother-in-law; struck down his fellow countryman in secret; accepted a bribe in a murder case; or otherwise would not observe the commandments; and for each curse all the people were to say, “Amen.”

panorama showing Mount Gerizim on the left, Mount Ebal on the right, and modern Nablus (ancient Shechem) between
(photographed by and copyright Uwe A; for licensing information, double-click on the picture)

On the other hand, if they obeyed God and observed faithfully all the commandments, then God would set them high above all the nations of the earth; bless them in the city and the country; bless the issue of their wombs, the produce of their soil, and the fertility of their herds and flocks; bless their basket and their kneading bowl; bless them in their comings and goings; rout their enemies; bless them upon their barns and all their undertakings; bless them in the land; establish them as God’s holy people; give them abounding prosperity; provide rain in season; and make them the head and not the tail.

But if they did not obey God and observe faithfully the commandments, then God would curse them in the city and the country; curse their basket and kneading bowl; curse the issue of their womb, the produce of their soil, and the fertility of their herds and flocks; curse them in their comings and goings; loose on them calamity, panic, and frustration in all their enterprises; make pestilence cling to them; strike them with tuberculosis, fever, inflammation, scorching heat, drought, blight, and mildew; turn the skies to copper and the earth to iron; make the rain into dust; rout them before their enemies; and strike them with the Egyptian inflammation, hemorrhoids, boil-scars, itch, madness, blindness, and dismay. If they paid the bride price for a wife, another man would enjoy her; if they built a house, they would not live in it; if they planted a vineyard, they would not harvest it.

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (1867 painting by Francesco Hayez)
The Captivity of Judah (illustration from a Bible card published 1904 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

Their oxen would be slaughtered before their eyes, but they would not eat of it; their donkey would be seized and not returned; their flock would be delivered to their enemies; their sons and daughters would be delivered to another people; a people they did not know would eat the produce of their soil; they would be abused and downtrodden continually, until they were driven mad; God would afflict them at the knees and thighs with a severe inflammation; God would drive them to an unknown nation where they would serve other gods, of wood and stone; and they would be a byword among all the peoples. Locusts would consume their seed, worms would devour their vineyards, the olives would drop off their olive trees, their sons and daughters would go into captivity, the cricket would take over all the trees and produce of their land, the stranger in their midst would rise above them, the stranger would be their creditor, and the stranger would be the head and they the tail. Because they would not serve God in joy over abundance, they would have to serve in hunger, thirst, and nakedness the enemies whom God would let loose against them. God would bring against them a ruthless nation from afar, whose language they would not understand, to devour their cattle and produce of their soil and to shut them up in their towns until every mighty wall in which they trusted had come down. And when they were shut up under siege, they would eat the flesh of their sons and daughters. God would inflict extraordinary plagues and diseases on them until they would have a scant few left, for as God once delighted in making them prosperous and many, so would God delight in causing them to perish and diminish. God would scatter them among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, but even among those nations, they would find no place to rest. In the morning they would say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening they would say, “If only it were morning!” God would send them back to Egypt in galleys and they would offer themselves for sale as slaves, but none would buy.

Exhortation to obedience edit

Moses reminded the Israelites that they had seen all that God did to Pharaoh and Egypt, yet they did not yet understand. Moses led them through the wilderness 40 years, their clothes and sandals did not wear out, and they survived without bread to eat and wine to drink, so that they might know that the Lord was their God. They defeated King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan, took their land, and gave it to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Therefore, Moses urged them to observe faithfully all the commandments, that they might succeed in all that they undertook.

Questions edit

Here are a few of the questions that the Rabbis raised about this Torah reading:

  • What was the purpose of the ritual of the first fruits and its accompanying declaration?[3]
  • Would converts to Judaism bring the first fruits and recite the accompanying declaration about the land “which the Lord swore to our fathers, to give us”?[4]
  • Who was the “wandering Aramean”?[5]
  • What was the duty to give to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow?[6]
  • What is the proper role of wine in Jewish rejoicing?[7]
  • What does Deuteronomy 27:9 mean by the command to “be attentive”?[8]
  • Why does Deuteronomy 27:15–25 start with these particular 11 curses?[9]
  • What does it mean in Deuteronomy 27:18 to “cause a blind person to go astray”?[10]
  • What does it mean in Deuteronomy 27:24 to “strike one’s fellow in secret”?[11]
  • What is one’s duty to support Torah study?[12]
  • How powerful is the word “amen”?[13]
  • What does it mean in Deuteronomy 28:9 to “walk in God’s ways”?[14]
  • Are the blessings of observing the Torah those stated in Deuteronomy 28:1–69 or yet other blessings?[15]

Notes edit

  1. Deuteronomy 26:5–10.
  2. Deuteronomy 26:12–15.
  3. Obadiah Figu, Binah LeIttim; Nehama Leibowitz.
  4. Compare Mishnah Bikkurim 1:3 with Jerusalem Talmud Bikkurim 5b and Maimonides, Letter to Obadiah the Proselyte.
  5. Compare Sifrei, Rashi, and the Haggadah with Ibn Ezra and Rashbam.
  6. Sifre to Deuteronomy 303:1–2.
  7. Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 109a.
  8. Babylonian Talmud Berachot 63b.
  9. Babylonian Talmud Sotah 37b. Rashi.
  10. Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews 4:31(276). Circa 93–94. Reprinted in, e.g., The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. Translated by William Whiston, 121. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1987. ISBN 0-913573-86-8. Rashi.
  11. Rashi.
  12. Leviticus Rabbah 25:1.
  13. Babylonian Talmud Shevuot 36a. Deuteronomy Rabbah 7:1.
  14. Maimonides, Sefer HaMitzvot Positive Commandment 8. Compare Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a; Sifre to Deuteronomy 49.
  15. Nehama Leibowitz; Harvey Fields, A Torah Commentary for Our Times.