Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:9)
26:1 And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein;
Comment: This portion is “Ki Tavo”, which means “when you come” (to the promised land). The first 11 verses introduce a ceremony with first fruits, which teaches us important lessons about how to thank Gd.
26:2 That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name there.
Comment: “thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth”: including wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. These are the seven species mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8. Rashi derives this by the common keyword “land” that appears both there and here.
“and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name there”: Even though we labored to harvest these fruits, we know that we need to thank Gd for our harvest. He has given us this land to grow these fruits; he gives us good weather (sunshine, rain in time); he gives us health, strength, and wisdom to labor…
26:6 And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage:
Comment: Recalling the hardship in the past, …
26:8 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:
Comment: … and how Gd saved us, …
26:9 And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey.
Comment: … and comparing the good situation now, we can better convey our gratitude to Gd.
26:10 And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O LORD, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God:
Comment: “I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O LORD, hast given me.”: it is axiomatic that we can only thank Gd from what He has given us, since all belongs to Him and all our good things are given by Him.
“And now, behold, …” : When we thank Gd, it is better if we could hold a real object He gave and say “ look, here is what You have given to me”. Nowadays, this could be: “Thank You for this new phone”, “Thank You for this acceptance letter of my paper (or application)”, “Thank You for this letter announcing a big raise” … In my lounge, I have a bookshelf keeping letters of raises, letters on tenuring and promotion, graduation brochures that list my students, acceptance letters for publications, children’s school reports … In front of these real objects, I can experience gratitude to Gd more realistically.
26:11 And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.
Comment: Share your blessing with people in need, rejoice together with them. Your cup overflows as David said in Psalm 23:5. You then become a blessing, as Gd has blessed Abraham in Genesis 12:2.
27:26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Comment: That is why Paul said in Galatians 3:10: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” This is very alarming since nowadays most people fall short in carrying out Gd’s commandments in some ways. We cannot rely on what our own efforts deserve, we have to rely on Gd’s grace.
28:15 But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
Comments: “… to observe to do all his commandments…” The Jewish approach is to try hard and pray to Gd that they can observe and do all Gd’s commandments, but I doubt if anyone can achieve this goal nowadays. I had a very first hand experience: I pray three times a day. It is a beautiful tradition that Prophet Daniel practiced and many Jews still do nowadays. But after several months, I found that sometimes I cannot avoid inappropriate thoughts appearing during my prayer, even if I pray to Gd to help me pray. This starts to bother me more and more, since the Jewish custom is to consider praying to be standing before Gd Himself. Later, I found that many Jews had the same problem and they invented many ways to combat inappropriate thoughts. See https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/118141/kavanah-prayer-and-ocd
, where someone responded “BTW, it is safe to say that most experience inappropriate thoughts of all kinds during prayer at one time or another, we’re all human, how we deal with it is what can make us great.”
I agree we are all human. Human efforts (even after praying for help) are not enough to do all the commandments. But what about the current verse, which says “all these curses shall come”? We cannot just say that Gd only punishes unintentional errors, since sometimes (I hate to say that) people fall short even intentionally! I cannot really stand strict scrutiny, I have to rely on Gd’s grace.
Fortunately, Paul says in Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree”. Accepting this method of redemption from Gd, means humbling oneself and admitting our need, for Gd (our Heavenly Dad) Himself to pay for our debts. It is like a child who broke an antique vase in a hotel, and the value of the vase was more than the value of all the toys that this child owns. Instead of arguing that this vase is too old to be paid for, it is better to admit that it does have to be paid for, and that he needs his dad to pay a steep price for it.
29:8 And we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance unto the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh.
Comment: I think here Moses wants to convince his audiences that just as their brothers in these 2.5 tribes have possessed land, so the other tribes will also inherit their promised land, on the other side of the Jordan River.
How is possession of the land in this verse related to the “therefore”, of observing the commandments, in the next verse?
29:9 Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.
Comment: The promised land is the perfect location that Gd has prepared for you, in order to observe His commandments, and to “prosper in all that ye do”. For example, in the wilderness you couldn’t plant trees, but in the promised land you can plant trees and observe the related commandments. As Leviticus 19:23-15 says: “And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the LORD withal. And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the LORD your God.”