Parashat Ki Tavo - Holy Nation
מרן רה"י הרב שבתי סבתו | כ אלול התשעט | 20.09.2019
פרשת כי תבוא
Parashat Ki Tavo
הרב שבתי סבתו
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
The process by which the Nation of Israel was formed and shaped was long and twisted. It began with Hashem's revelation to Avraham Avinu, continued with the Stand at Mt. Sinai, and culminated with the entry into the Land of Israel. All three of these momentous milestones on the time-line of Israel's formation involve the forging of a brit, a covenant between G-d and the People:
- The covenant that Hashem made with the Father of our Nation, Avraham - the Covenant of Circumcision, Brit Milah.
- The covenant that Hashem made with the Nation at Mount Sinai when he gave them the Torah.
- The covenantal stand at the Moav Plains immediately preceding Israel's entry into the Land of Israel. It was this stage that marked the conclusion of the shaping of Am Yisrael, as Moshe himself said to the people at that time:
הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִהְיֵיתָ לְעָם לַי-הוה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ
This day you have become a nation unto Hashem your G-d (Dvarim 27,9)
As we will see, each stage adds another dimension, increasingly completing and rounding out the bonds between Israel and Hashem, up to the stage of d'vekut¸ "clinging" to G-d.
The Sign of the Covenant
In the first stage, Brit Milah, Avraham and his descendants were required to observe one commandment: ritual circumcision. G-d told him: "You shall observe My covenant… This is the covenant that you must keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Circumcise all your males." (B'reshit 17,9-10)
Brit Milah is actually the only requirement mentioned; nothing else is required at this point. But this is quite a fundamental obligation, as we see later when it is time for the Redemption from Egypt. After G-d sends Moshe back to Egypt to redeem Israel, an astonishing incident occurs: An angel of G-d appeared and actually wanted to kill Moshe – because his baby son Eliezer was not circumcised. It was Moshe's wife Tziporah who saved her husband, as the Torah tells us:
וַיְהִי בַדֶּרֶךְ בַּמָּלוֹן וַיִּפְגְּשֵׁהוּ י-הוה וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הֲמִיתוֹ. וַתִּקַּח צִפֹּרָה צֹר וַתִּכְרֹת אֶת עָרְלַת בְּנָהּ
On his way, at the place where they slept, G-d confronted him and wanted to kill him.
Tziporah then took a sharp stone and cut off her son's foreskin. (Shmot 4, 24-25)
The Torah recounts this incident to emphasize that if the fulfillment of the very first covenantal obligation, the Brit Milah, is absent, there can be no advancement to the next stage of the relationship between G-d and the Nation.
Shortly afterwards, after the Nation of Israel has left Egypt amidst tremendous miracles, comes the second stage. The people camp opposite Mount Sinai and hear the Divine call via Moshe:
וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי...
וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ
... If you hearken to My voice and preserve My covenant...
then you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation... (Shmot 19,3-5)
This is an upgrade of Israel's obligations in their covenantal relationship with Hashem. Previously, they had only to "preserve My covenant" via circumcision; now is added the obligation to "hearken to My voice" regarding an entire series of commandments, laws and statutes. The above verse emphasizes two elements: a) adhering to G-d's word, via His prophets, and b) keeping the Covenant of Torah, which includes the mitzvot.
In order that the Torah be observed properly and not misunderstood, we are to adhere to the words of the Prophets of each generation. Members of the Sanhedrin (High Court of Sages), they were in constant communication with G-d and knew when to warn the nation of dangerous deviations from G-d's will. When Israel did not listen to their admonitions, the bitter truth was presented to them in full force:
הַכֹּהֲנִים לֹא אָמְרוּ אַיֵּה י-הוה, וְתֹפְשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה לֹא יְדָעוּנִי,
וְהָרֹעִים פָּשְׁעוּ בִי, וְהַנְּבִיאִים נִבְּאוּ בַבַּעַל, וְאַחֲרֵי לֹא יוֹעִלוּ הָלָכוּ
The priests did not say, "Where is G-d?" Those who grasp the Torah did not know Me, the leaders sinned against Me, and the prophets spoke in the name of Baal
and followed ineffectual [gods]. (Yirmiyahu 2,8)
The unique addition at Mt. Sinai was the giving of the Torah via G-d's loyal servant Moshe Rabbeinu, and the succeeding prophets and Sages in his wake, as is written: "A prophet from your midst, from among your brothers, like me, G-d will raise up for you; hearken to him." (Dvarim 18,15)
At the Plains of Moav
As the nation is about to enter the Promised Land of Israel, Moshe gathers them together for the third and final covenant – in which, again, a new element is added. As we read in Parashat Ki Tavo:
אֶת י-הוה הֶאֱמַרְתָּ הַיּוֹם לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵא-להים וְלָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו
וְלִשְׁמֹר חֻקָּיו וּמִצְוֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְלִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ.
You have raised up G-d today, to be your G-d and to walk in His ways and to keep
His laws, commandments and statutes, and to hearken to His voice. (Dvarim 26,17)
The new element mentioned here is "to walk in His ways" – i.e., to be like G-d. This verse lists all three of the elements of G-d's covenants with Israel, beginning with the newest one: We must emulate His traits, such as those of mercy and compassion, by walking in his ways; we must also keep His laws, commandments and statutes, not only the mitzvah of circumcision, but the entire covenant of Torah; and we must hearken to His voice, that is, to the voice of the Prophets speaking in His name (see Rashi to Dvarim 13,5).
Corresponding to Israel's three obligations towards Hashem, G-d took upon Himself at Mt. Sinai three parallel obligations towards us:
וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים כִּי לִי כָּל הָאָרֶץ וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹש
You shall be a treasure unto Me among all the nations, for the entire earth is Mine.
And you will be a kingdom of priests unto Me and a holy nation. (Shmot 19,5-6)
Later, as Israel awaits entry to Eretz Yisrael from the Plains of Moav, Moshe repeats these three Divine commitments in his own words:
וַי-הוה הֶאֱמִירְךָ הַיּוֹם לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה
G-d has also raised you up today, making you His treasured nation
"Treasured nation" means that Israel is very beloved and delightful to G-d, as in the verse, "Isn’t Ephraim [Israel] my much-loved child, my child of delights?" (Jeremiah 31,19)
וּלְתִתְּךָ עֶלְיוֹן עַל כָּל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לִתְהִלָּה וּלְשֵׁם וּלְתִפְאָרֶת
And to make you the highest of all the nations that He made,
to give you praise, fame and glory,
"The highest" indicates that Israel will be venerated by the nations as a people to be emulated. Their admiration stems, at this point, from Israel's economic and military success; we will explain this below. Moshe continues:
וְלִהְיֹתְךָ עַם קָדֹשׁ לַי-הוה אֱלֹקֶיךָ.
and that you should be a nation holy unto Hashem your G-d. (Dvarim 26,18-19)
The concept of a "holy nation" means a nation dedicated specially to G-d, separated from all the others, worthy of having G-d dwell in its midst. At this highest level, the Gentiles' admiration of Israel is raised up a notch. It is no longer merely recognition of its material accomplishments, but rather appreciation for its very high level of Divine ethics. This is the Nation of G-d, that is, the nation upon which the Name of G-d is permanently proclaimed.
What we must now clarify is how to arrange G-d's and Israel's respective commitments. Which one is parallel to which, and what exactly is each side promising in exchange for what?
Matching the Pairs
Moshe Rabbeinu arranges the mutual commitments within the package of blessings that he announces. He begins with the second stage:
וְהָיָה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע בְּקוֹל י-הוה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ... וּנְתָנְךָ י-הוה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ עֶלְיוֹן
עַל כָּל גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ... כִּי תִשְׁמַע בְּקוֹל י-הוה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ
If you hearken to G-d's voice... He will make you supreme over the nations
of the earth when you hearken to G-d's voice (28,1-2)
That is to say, Israel's adherence to the words of Hashem's prophets, guiding the nation in the correct understanding of Torah, uplifts it to a level of economic blessing and military success that arouses great admiration among the Gentiles, as we read:
בָּרוּךְ פְּרִי בִטְנְךָ וּפְרִי אַדְמָתְךָ וּפְרִי בְהֶמְתֶּךָ ...
יִתֵּן י-הוה אֶת אֹיְבֶיךָ הַקָּמִים עָלֶיךָ נִגָּפִים לְפָנֶיךָ...
Blessed will be the fruit of your womb, of your soil, of your livestock…
G-d will cause your enemies rising up against you to be beaten before you… (verses 4-7)
Moshe then continues with the third stage:
יְקִימְךָ י-הוה לוֹ לְעַם קָדוֹשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לָךְ
כִּי תִשְׁמֹר אֶת מִצְוֹת י-הוה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו
G-d will establish you as His holy nation...
for keeping His commandments and walking in His ways (Dvarim 28,9)
For G-d's name and his Presence to permanently hover in our midst, we must emulate His traits and walk in His ways, thus raising us up to the level of a "holy nation" singularly dedicated to Him in our high levels of ethics and morals. And then:
וְרָאוּ כָּל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ כִּי שֵׁם י-הוה נִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ וְיָרְאוּ מִמֶּךָּ
All the nations of the earth will see that G-d's Name is called upon you,
and they will fear you. (verse 10)
The Gentiles' excitement will stem not from our material success, but from Israel's having adopted high moral standards and from its selection as G-d's eternal Nation.
The manner in which Moshe Rabbeinu arranged these mutual commitments teaches us that the first stage – the Brit of Torah and its commandments – will merit us the status of "treasured nation," a beloved and precious treasure in G-d's eyes. We can thus arrange all three matching sets of mutual commitments, His and ours, as follows:
- Keeping G-d's covenant (the Torah's commandments) grants us the status of "treasured nation."
- Adhering to the word of G-d via His prophets will bring material success that will attract the Gentiles' admiration.
- Walking in G-d's path and emulating His attributes will raise us up to the level of a holy people unto G-d, of which the nations will stand in fear and awe.
This series represents a gradual ascent from a beloved people, to one that is admired by the nations, and from there, to a "holy nation unto Hashem." At the same time, Israel's gradually ascending commitment to Hashem begins with simply keeping the mitzvot, continues with consistent adherence to G-d's prophets, and ends with our adherence to G-d's traits and ways.
The mitzvah of Tefillin illustrates the three steps. It is mentioned in four places in the Torah: twice in connection with the Exodus from Egypt (the Kadesh and V'hayah Ki Y'viacha passages), and twice in reference to our obligation to fulfill the mitzvot (the Shma and V'haya Im Shamo'a passages).
In the first stage, the mitzvah of Tefillin is simply a means by which to remember the Exodus, by wearing the passages of the Exodus on the head and arm:
וְהָיָה לְךָ לְאוֹת עַל יָדְךָ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ... כִּי בְּיָד חֲזָקָה הוֹצִאֲךָ י-הוה מִמִּצְרָיִם
It shall be for you a sign on your arm
and a remembrance between your eyes [on your head]…
that G-d took you out of Egypt with a strong hand. (Shmot 13,9)
In the second stage, we connect to G-d's word on a daily basis of attachment and great love:
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת י-הוה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ... וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה
אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל לְבָבֶךָ... וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל יָדֶךָ...
You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart… and these words that I command you today shall be on your heart… and bind them as a sign on your hand…
And finally, the third stage: The Tefillin uplifts us to the maximal level of walking in G-d's ways in everything we do, as in "to walk in His ways and to cleave to Him" (Dvarim 11,22). The Torah alludes to this level of the mitzvah of Tefillin as follows:
וְרָאוּ כָּל עַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ כִּי שֵׁם י-הוה נִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ וְיָרְאוּ מִמֶּךָּ
The nations of the land will all see that G-d's Name is proclaimed upon you,
and they will fear you. (28,10)
- Eliezer HaGadol teaches in the Gmara: "This verse refers to the Tefillin worn on the head." (Brachot, p. 6a) At this level, the Nation of Israel climbs to the level of "the Creator's Tefillin:" Israel itself becomes the crown of the Creator in the infinite expanse. This level is revealed only in the land of Israel, site of the Divine Presence.
This leads us to an understanding of the following warning: "You are sons unto the Lord your G-d. Do not cut yourselves or make a bald spot between your eyes for the dead, for you are a holy nation unto your G-d." (Dvarim 14,1) It was the custom of the Canaanite nations to pull out their hair as a sign of mourning over the loss of their loved ones. They felt that death was a total end, the beginning of nothingness. In total contrast to this, the Nation of Israel knows, and informed the world, that the soul is forever, and is bound up with and sanctified to the eternally living G-d. We are absolutely forbidden to tear out our hair in mourning.
The very spot on the head where the Gentiles displayed their belief in nothingness - above the center of the forehead - is the very same spot where we display our bonds with the living G-d. For that is precisely where we place our Tefillin, in which is written the Name of G-d in our midst Who protects us. The Tefillin helps link us to the world of eternal life, via our earthly lives – and this is the level of a Holy Nation, about which it is written:
וְאַתֶּם הַדְּבֵקִים בַּי-הוה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם הַיּוֹם
And you who cleave to Hashem your G-d, all live today. (Dvarim 4,4)
The Haftarah: Speeding Up the Redemption
Following the Three Weeks of Mourning over Jerusalem's destruction, which culminate with Tisha B'Av, we read seven weekly Haftarot known as the Seven Passages of Consolation. One of them is the Haftarah to Parashat Ki Tavo, which deals with the light of redemption that is to shine upon Zion:
קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ וּכְבוֹד י-הוה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of G-d has shone upon you. (Yeshayahu 60,1)
Addressing Zion and Jerusalem, the Prophet is saying that the time has come for Zion to shine its own light. But this will happen only when the great Divine Light, not that of the sun or the moon, shines upon Zion. As the Haftarah continues:
לֹא יִהְיֶה לָּךְ עוֹד הַשֶּׁמֶש לְאוֹר יוֹמָם... וְהָיָה לָךְ י-הוה לְאוֹר עוֹלָם.
The sun will no longer provide you light by day, and the moon will
no longer illuminate for you; Hashem will be your everlasting light. (verse 19)
When, finally, the wondrous light of Zion shines brightly, it will carry along the souls of the Jews exiled around the world, who will feel themselves being powerfully drawn to make Aliyah to their Land of Israel. This shining light will magically gather up all of those souls, one by one wherever they are, and lead them to Eretz Yisrael:
שְׂאִי סָבִיב עֵינַיִךְ וּרְאִי כֻּלָּם נִקְבְּצוּ בָאוּ לָך, בָּנַיִךְ מֵרָחוֹק יָבֹאוּ, וּבְנוֹתַיִךְ עַל צַד תֵּאָמַנָה.
Lift your eyes around and see, all of them have gathered and are coming to you,
your sons have come from far, and your daughters will be carried. (verse 4)
When that hidden light of Zion shines, it will bring about wondrous changes in all areas of life. The strength of its illumination upon Bnei Yisrael will light up even those who until then had been in the dark:
וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים לְעוֹלָם יִירְשׁוּ אָרֶץ
Your people are all righteous, they will inherit the earth forever. (verse 21)
The entire Nation of Israel will become tzaddikim, righteous people, who will forever have the right to inherit the Land of Israel. Israel's tremendous hidden potential will be revealed in practice, and everything having to do with the Land and the Nation will be raised up to a higher level. All that was taken from Israel will be returned many times over, both in quantity and quality:
תַּחַת הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אָבִיא זָהָב, וְתַחַת הַבַּרְזֶל אָבִיא כֶסֶף...
In place of brass, I will bring gold; in place of metal, I will bring silver... (verse 17)
Our natural growth, too, will be manifest in miraculous proportions, and the Nation of Israel that had become so tiny will once again wondrously flower and increase:
הַקָּטֹן יִהְיֶה לָאֶלֶף, וְהַצָּעִיר לְגוֹי עָצוּם;
The little one will increase one thousand-fold,
and the young one will become a tremendous nation. (verse 22)
In the wake of this amazing illumination, the Redemption, too, which was to have waited for "its set time," will be replaced by a Redemption that will occur quickly and immediately. G-d will advance and hasten the "set time" of the coming of the Redemption, and turn it into "I will hasten it," as is written:
אֲנִי י-הוה בְּעִתָּהּ אֲחִישֶׁנָּה.
I am G-d: in its set time, I will hasten it. (verse 22)