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Ki Tavo 5773

Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )

by Kalman Packouz

Rabbi Kalman Packouz' popular Jewish weekly.

GOOD MORNING! What does it mean to be the Chosen People? To many Jews it is a source of embarrassment and consternation. To many Christians it is a source of awe and admiration -- and to some Christians, jealousy. And to our Muslim cousins -- hatred?

When I grew up there was a comedy album called "You Don't Have to Be Jewish" (still available on CD!). One of the pieces was called, I believe, "Conversation with God." In it the Jew asks God, "Is it true that we are the Chosen People?" And God replies, "Yes, my son, the Jews are the Chosen People." To which the Jew asks, "Would it be possible to choose somebody else for a while?"

Why is the concept of Chosen People an embarrassment and consternation to some Jews? The great concepts of equality and liberty flow from our Torah. That we should think of ourselves as "chosen" rubs against the grain that all people are created in the image of God. Also, if our Chosen-ness makes others jealous, who needs to give more justifications for crusades, pogroms and holocausts? Some Jews think that we have suffered because the Almighty calls us His Chosen People. And even if our suffering is not because of the appellation, then what good does it do for us to be called the Chosen People?

Let's look at the sources: In this week's Torah portion, after commanding us to walk in His path, to observe His statutes, commandments and ordinances and to listen to His voice, the Torah writes, "And the Almighty has distinguished you this day to be for Him a treasured people, as He spoke to you, and to observe all of His commandments -- and elevate you above all of the nations that He made -- for praise, renown and splendor and to be a holy nation to the Lord your God, as He spoke" (Deuteronomy 26:18-19).

In an earlier Torah portion, the Torah writes, "Children you are to the Lord your God ... for you are a holy nation to the Lord your God and God has chosen you to be to Him a treasured people from all of the nations that are on the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 14:1-3). And "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be to Him a treasured people from all of the peoples that are on the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6).

And even earlier in the Book of Exodus, the Torah writes, "And now, if you will certainly listen to My voice and observe My covenant, you will be to Me treasured from all of the peoples, for the whole world is Mine. And you will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation ..." (Exodus 19:5-6).

While the concept of Chosen People does not mean a superior people, it does imply a special closeness of the Jewish people to the Almighty. Why is there that special closeness, that special relationship?

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 14:10) tells us that the Almighty went to the nations of the world and offered them the Torah. Each one asked, "What's in it?" The Almighty replied with a commandment that would be the most difficult for that particular nation and then each nation rejected it. The Jewish people, however, said "Na'aseh V'nishma" --we will do (the commandments) and we will analyze afterwards how they impact our lives.

The concept of Chosen People means both chosen and choosing. Chosen for the responsibility to be a light unto the nations, to be a moral signpost for the nations of the world. Choosing means that the Jewish people accepted on Mt. Sinai to fulfill this mandate and to do the will of God. We are not chosen for special benefits; we are chosen for extra responsibility.

Because of our voluntary acceptance, the Almighty made an eternal covenant with us that we will be His people and He will be our God. Any individual can come close to the Almighty, but the ultimate relationship comes through entering the covenant of Abraham and fulfilling the Torah. This special relationship is open to any member of humanity who wishes to enter the covenant irrespective of race, religion or ethnic origin.

Every nation, every people, every religion thinks that it is better than any other nation, people or religion. The Jewish people know that the issue is not whether we are better than anyone else, but whether we fulfill our part of the covenant with the Almighty to hold high the values of the Torah and to do the Almighty's will.


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Torah Portion of the Week
Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:1 -- 29:8

This week's portion includes: Bringing to the Temple as an offering the first fruits of the Seven Species special to the Land of Israel, Declaration of tithes, the Almighty designating the Jewish people as His treasured people (Deut. 26:16 -19), the command to set up in the Jordan River and then on Mount Ebal large stones which had the Torah written upon them in 70 languages, the command to have a public ratification of the acceptance of the Law from Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal; the Torah then sets forth the blessings for following the Law and the curses for not following it, and concludes with Moshe's final discourse. Verse 28:46 tells us the importance of serving the Almighty with "joy and a good heart." The last verse of the portion instructs us "You shall fulfill the words of this covenant and do them so that you will succeed in all that you do!"

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"God will raise you up for Himself as a holy nation, as He swore to you, if you will keep the commandments of God, your Lord, and walk in His ways."

What does it mean "to walk in His ways"?

From this phrase in the Torah we learn our obligation to emulate the Almighty. The Sefer HaChinuch elaborates, "Just as God is merciful and compassionate, so too must we be merciful and compassionate."

The Torah does not merely forbid actions that stem from cruelty and hatred. Negative feelings towards others are in themselves wrong. Our attributes should be like those that the Torah ascribes to the Almighty.

Rabbi Shmuel Salant, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, was constantly besieged by people for rulings or personal advice. His family suggested that he set hours to receive the public so that he could get some rest. Rabbi Salant refused, "I can't agree to that in view of the fact that we are obligated to emulate the attributes of God. He does not limit Himself to having special hours when He can be reached, as we attest to in the Grace after meals, 'You constantly sustain us, every day, at all times, and at all hours.' "

If a person does someone else a favor solely with the intention of fulfilling the commandment of "Love your neighbor," this is not sufficient to fulfill the obligation of emulating God. Emulating God requires that it should become part of our very nature to help others. (Ali Shur, pp. 84-85)


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--  Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi


In honor of

Edward Grodsky


With Special Thanks to

Peter & Andrea


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