Parashat Ki Tavo -
הרב שבתי סבתו | טו אלול התשפ | 04.09.2020
פרשת כי תבוא
Parashat Ki Tavo
הרב שבתי סבתו
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
Responsibility and Renewal
Today You Have Become a Nation
It is universally accepted that Israel primarily coagulated into a nation during its years of slavery in Egypt. This long period of suffering was like an iron crucible, a melting pot into which the Eternal Nation was poured and shaped, bringing about the ultimate historic milestone of the formation of the Nation of Israel.
The Torah teaches us of the People of Israel's formation:
וְאֶתְכֶם לָקַח ה' וַיּוֹצִא אֶתְכֶם מִכּוּר הַבַּרְזֶל מִמִּצְרָיִם לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם נַחֲלָה כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
And G-d took you and removed you from the iron crucible, from Egypt,
to be a heritage nation unto Him this very day.
An iron crucible is a pot in which metals are boiled and melted in order to filter out the imperfections, leaving pure iron. For the Nation of Israel, the Egyptian bondage was a melting pot in which it was boiled, melted and shaped into the holy nation of
Even before Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, they were raised to the level of G-d's chosen nation, as Hashem told Moshe clearly (Sh'mot 7,16): "Tell Pharaoh: Send away My nation, and they will serve Me in the desert…" The words my nation refer to the future. That is, despite the fact that they are a nation chosen for service of G-d, G-d's Name was called upon them only when received the Torah and not before. Only at Mount Sinai, when the people took upon themselves to obey G-d's commands and adhere to their covenant with Him, did G-d declare from the heavens:
אָנֹכִי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ!
I am the L-rd your G-d!
That is, in Egypt, Israel graduated to the level of a nation chosen by Hashem to be ready to stand in the future at Mt. Sinai and hear G-d declare that He is "the G-d of Israel."
In light of this, how can it be that in the Torah portion of Ki Tavo – which takes place as Israel is about to enter the Holy Land, 40 years after Mt. Sinai – Moshe Rabbeinu declares to Bnei Yisrael:
הַסְכֵּת וּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִהְיֵיתָ לְעָם לַה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ.
Pay attention and listen Israel,
this very day you have become a nation unto Hashem your G-d.
"This very day"? It happened 40 years earlier!
This is why the classic commentator Rashi does not understand this verse literally, but rather explains that it means: "You should view each and every day as if it were the day that you entered into this covenant with G-d." That is, Moshe is telling us the way to relate to the Covenant so that it will be part of us every day.
But Rashi does not explain the secret of how this is done. How are we to be able to sense that we have just entered into G-d's covenant, every day anew?
The same question applies to another verse, which was also stated on the eve of the entry into the Promised Land:
הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה ...
This very day, Hashem your G-d commands you to observe these laws…
Can it be that Hashem is commanding us only for this particular day? No; once again, Rashi explains that the meaning is as follows: “Every day, you should view the laws as if they are new and freshly-commanded.”
But once again, Rashi does not provide the secret as to how to do this! How are we to create the exalted sensation of newness in accepting and carrying out the commandments, every day of the year?
Let us take an example from the life of every Jewish boy and girl. Clearly, the day that a young Jew becomes Bar Mitzvah is a very significant day in his life. But, in what way? What is the precise definition of the transition point between the day before becoming a man, and the day after?
The definition is: The acceptance of responsibility.
Being able to accept responsibility is that which defines the transition from childhood to adulthood. Clearly, there are various levels of accepting responsibility – but the first stage is the day of the Bar Mitzvah. On this day he becomes liable for punishment if he sins, by virtue of the fact that on this day he accepts responsibility for his actions.
What this means is that he understands the meaning of, "I commit myself." When he says he will do something, we know that we can expect him to actually do it.
There is another difference between childhood and maturity: During childhood, the child is given whatever he requires; he need make no effort or commitment on his own. But as he approaches adulthood, he must show more and more responsibility, and more and more effort and action. As his level of responsibility increases, so too does the level of independence and authorities given him.
But this is not all. After several years of displaying personal responsibility, he must soon show an even higher level, and that is "family responsibility." At the age of 18-20, when he is ready to marry and build his own family unit, he enters the stage in which he becomes responsible for others
Finally, in the third stage, his circle of responsibility extends even past one's family. There are those who take on responsibility for their friends – by guaranteeing their loans, for instance, or by taking on communal or national obligations. He is no longer responsible only for himself, but also for others.
How can this be applied to the formation of the Nation of Israel?
Israel was born as a nation when it left the “womb” of Egypt. It spent its childhood and youth in the wilderness. Here, as it wandered for forty years, it was given everything ready-made, just as a child can expect. For instance, Moshe Rabbeinu taught them Torah and knowledge, and had an answer for their every question; if something was not clear, Moshe would simply ask Hashem and the response would soon come.
In addition, the Manna, their main food, fell from the sky in plentiful amounts every day, landing practically at their door. The pillar of fire at night, and the pillar of cloud by day, were their guides, showing them the route to walk. The well of water accompanied them from place to place, providing them with drinking water on demand. The cloud above them provided them with shade, and they never needed new clothes, because the old ones didn’t wear out.
The turning point came when they entered the Land of Israel. Here, suddenly, everything stopped; they were abruptly forced to find food and fight their enemies on their own, albeit with some covert help from above. They would now have to build houses, plant trees, appoint a king and a leader, and build the Beit HaMikdash.
This turning point marked the transition from national childhood to adulthood, from total dependence to maturity and independence guided by the Torah and the prophets.
The Medrash Rabba describes it as follows:
The Torah states, “When you come to the Land and you plant a tree for food” (Vayikra 19,23). This can be compared to a chicken that feeds her chicks by placing the food in their mouths. But when they have grown sufficiently and continue to come for their food, the mother no longer supplies them directly - but rather pecks them on their heads, teaching them: It's time for you to get food on your own.
This is what Moshe Rabbeinu told Israel: From now on, there will be no more well of water, no more Manna, and no more clouds of glory; instead, everyone must take his tools on his shoulders and start planting for himself.
From now on, what is required is a level of personal responsibility in building and developing Eretz Yisrael.
The Newness of Torah Each and Every Day
With the entry into the Land of Israel, the Nation of Israel begins a new period in which it accepts responsibility to implement the laws of the Torah under the new circumstances.
This responsibility for action requires them to look again at the operating instructions. To fulfill the Torah’s commandments in the correct manner, they must constantly review the requirements – that is, they must study the laws on a high level and responsibly – so that no mistakes will be made.
Most people, during their period of study, don't pay attention to the nitty-gritty details of the material, because they are not relevant for them. But when they reach the stage of actually carrying out what they have learned, suddenly many questions arise regarding the details. They must then "re-learn" the material, such that it becomes “new” for them, as if they were learning it that day for the first time.
This concept will help us understand the verse with which we had difficulty above: "This very day, Hashem your G-d commands you to observe these laws..." It means that the day they accept responsibility is the day on which they must learn the material again and increase their awareness of Torah and its commandments.
We can also now understand another verse, from the end of Ki Tavo:
אֵלֶּה דִבְרֵי הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֶת מֹשֶׁה לִכְרֹת אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב,
מִלְּבַד הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת אִתָּם בְּחֹרֵב.
These are the words of the covenant that G-d commanded Moshe
to make with the children of Israel in Moav,
in addition to the covenant He made with them at Horev (Sinai).
Why are there two covenants? What does the second one add that the first one did not have?
The answer is that the first one was at Mount Sinai, when G-d gave the Torah to Israel. This was the start of the learning process: Israel learned its function in the world as the Nation of G-d walking in His path. This learning process lasted for 40 years, with Israel in the position of a student who receives a stipend or a scholarship, as well as a dormitory, health plan, food and more, so that he can study without worries.
The second covenant occurred in the Plains of Moav, where Moshe was speaking to them, very close to the place of their entry into the Land of Israel. This is the renewal of the covenant in terms of preparation for its actual implementation and acceptance of full responsibility.
This, then, is the source of the sensation of renewal, as if today was the first day of their nationhood. This is the fulfillment of the above verse that Moshe told Israel as they were about to enter the Land: “On this very day, you have become a nation unto Hashem your G-d.”
As we noted above, after one accepts responsibility for himself, there is another level: accepting responsibility for others. The nation of Israel agreed to take upon itself mutual accountability: "All of Israel is responsible for one another." The source for this in the Torah is the following verse of rebuke:
וְכָשְׁלוּ אִישׁ בְּאָחִיו...
One man will trip over the other…
The Sages explain (Sanhedrin 27b) that this means that people will stumble - will be held accountable - because of the sins of others. This is the source for the Torah commandment of tohekha, requiring us to admonish our friend or loved one whom we see sinning:
הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא.
You shall surely admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin upon him.
This means simply: If you do not rebuke and warn your friend regarding his sin, you bear a portion of responsibility for the sin, and are liable to be punished accordingly.
This is also the basis of the Halakhah [Jewish law] that states that one who is obligated to recite a blessing may simply hear it instead from someone else – even if the latter has already fulfilled his obligation regarding that blessing. For instance, one who recited Kiddush on the Sabbath, may recite it again for someone else who has not yet heard it.
Why is this? After all, in general, only one who is obligated in a given mitzvah may do it for someone else. But the explanation is simple: Everyone is responsible for the other; as long as even one Jew has not yet fulfilled his obligation, it is as if everyone has not yet fulfilled their obligation in this regard. Therefore, if one person has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, then even one who has already recited Kiddush is still "obligated" in the mitzvah, and may recite it for him.
We see this clearly in Parashat Nitzavim, towards the end of D'varim, which states:
אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם... לְעָבְרְךָ בִּבְרִית ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ וּבְאָלָתוֹ...
לְמַעַן הָקִים אֹתְךָ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעָם וְהוּא יִהְיֶה לְּךָ לֵא-לֹהִים...
You are all standing here… to be brought into the covenant of Hashem…
so that He will establish you today as His nation, and He will be your G-d...
What is so special about this day that it so clearly marks the day that Israel becomes G-d's nation? The answer is provided in the next verse:
וְלֹא אִתְּכֶם לְבַדְּכֶם אָנֹכִי כֹּרֵת אֶת הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת...
כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה עִמָּנוּ... וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה עִמָּנוּ הַיּוֹם.
And not only with you am I forging this covenant…
It is being made with those here with us… and with those who are not here with us.
In other words, this very willingness of this generation of Israel to be so responsible and concerned even for future generations that are not here with us – is that which so surely stamps Israel as G-d's eternal people, throughout all generations.
The Individual and the Nation
What exactly is the nature of this national obligation for all generations? Moshe and all of Israel agree that the covenant, with its rewards and punishments, will apply to all of Israel, forever. But how can this be done from a moral standpoint? How can one generation create an obligation upon all future generations that have not even been born yet?
Clearly, an agreement must be agreed to by both sides. What, then, obligates the future generations in this covenant, seeing as they were never asked if they agree? Where is their free choice?
To answer this, let us ask another question, from the sphere of biology. We don't know how many cells there are in a human body; some estimates put the number at 100 trillion. Each cell has a certain lifetime, some as short as one day and others up to a few months. In any event, within several months, all of the cells in the body are replaced with new ones; the body has become totally "new."
Let's say that a person took upon himself a certain obligation last year. Can he now come along and say, "I obligated last year's cells – but not the current version of my body! Today's cells weren't even around when I made this promise!"
Such a claim obviously has no basis. This is because this entity known as "the person" represents a timeless entity, regardless of when each individual thereof was formed or died out. Yes, each cell has its own individual life and existence, but its membership in the entity of "the person" goes far beyond its own individuality. It is a partner in the very essence of "the person," which is not merely a collection of cells; it is one entity in which the genetic information that comprises it transcends time-based cellular boundaries.
When the cell dies as an individual, it continues to live as part of the comprehensive entity called "man."
The same is true for the entity called "nation," and especially the Nation of Israel. A nation is much more than just the sum of its people or the number of its generations. It lives forever, even if the individuals therein – its people or generations – die out.
A Jew may die as an individual, but he lives forever within that eternal entity known as G-d's Nation. Israel's genetic code passes from one generation to the next. This is why Moshe can commit the entire nation to the covenant, even those who are not yet born.
This profound understanding now places into bold relief Moshe Rabbeinu's declaration that is the subject of this entire discussion:
לְמַעַן הָקִים אֹתְךָ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעָם וְהוּא יִהְיֶה לְּךָ לֵא-לֹהִים ...
So that He will establish you today as His nation, and He will be your G-d…
וְלֹא אִתְּכֶם לְבַדְּכֶם אָנֹכִי כֹּרֵת אֶת הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת ...
And not only with you am I forging this covenant…
That is to say: The declaration that Israel is a nation is intrinsically bound up with its ability to take on obligations even in the name of those who are not yet born.
“For All These, G-d Will Bring You to Judgment”
To complete the picture, let us now delve into a teaching of King Solomon that raises some very difficult questions:
שְׂמַח בָּחוּר בְּיַלְדוּתֶיךָ וִיטִיבְךָ לִבְּךָ בִּימֵי בְחוּרוֹתֶךָ
וְהַלֵּךְ בְּדַרְכֵי לִבְּךָ וּבְמַרְאֵי עֵינֶיךָ
וְדָע כִּי עַל כָּל אֵלֶּה יְבִיאֲךָ הָאֱ-לֹהִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט.
Rejoice, o youth, in your childhood, and let your heart be glad in your days of youth;
walk in the ways of your heart and what your eyes see -
but know that for all these, G-d will bring you to judgment.
The first problem is that the verse seems to contradict itself from beginning to end! It first allows the youth to do what he wants, and ends with a grave warning that he will be brought to task for doing just that!
In addition, how can Kohelet guide one to follow his own eyes and heart, when the Torah itself commands precisely the opposite? We recite it in Kriat Shma every day:
V'lo taturu acharei…, Do not stray after your heart and eyes (Bamidbar 15,39).
The Talmud (Shabbat 63b) asks these questions, and the famous Sage Resh Lakish provides an answer. He says that the first part of this verse refers to the joy we must have in our Torah study, while the second part tells us to realize that if we do not follow through with good deeds, we will have to face judgment.
Resh Lakish is teaching us a very profound lesson: When a person is studying, no matter how deep or complex the matter might be, it is still only academic and involves no responsibility. It can therefore even be compared to one who rejoices by drinking and making merry.
But the moment one reaches the point of responsibility for his actions, things begin to get much more stringent. When it comes to action, one must pay careful attention to every detail – as if he were standing in judgment before G-d at every single moment.
Once again, we see that the transfer from theoretical study to practical responsibility is very significant, and creates a dimension of a "new beginning."
Standing in the Other's Shoes
In the times of the Mishna and Gemara, only those who reached the age of 40 were allowed to teach and rule on what is permitted and what is forbidden. Accordingly, the Talmudic Sages stated (Tr. Avodah Zarah 5b) that a student can truly understand his teacher’s words and his behavior only when he reaches the age of 40. Why is this?
This is based on another famous teaching of the Mishna (Avot 2,4), namely: “Don’t judge your friend until you reach his place,” that is, until you stand in his shoes.
In order to understand your teacher and his rulings, one must be "in his shoes" – in the same situation and position of responsibility that he occupies. Only when a person reaches the age of 40 can he actually be in the same position as his teacher – because that is the age he is permitted to teach and issue rulings. Only then does he face the pressures and responsibility that will enable him to understand why his rabbi, facing the same pressures and responsibility, made the decisions he made.
The Sages learned this from the following verses in Parashat Ki Tavo:
וְלֹא נָתַן ה' לָכֶם לֵב לָדַעַת וְעֵינַיִם לִרְאוֹת וְאָזְנַיִם לִשְׁמֹעַ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
וָאוֹלֵךְ אֶתְכֶם אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר...
Hashem did not give you the heart to perceive, or eyes to see, or ears to hear
- up until this very day. And I led you for 40 years in the desert…
What Moshe is telling the people is that only today, with their entry into the Land of Israel, as they are about to accept upon themselves the responsibility for their actions – only now can they understand all the rulings and decisions that Moshe made. "Only today," Moshe tells them, "can you fully understand me and realize the pressures and responsibility that I faced and that led me to reach the decisions I made."
Let us add a delightful thought, in the name of Rabbe Nachman of Breslov, on the topic of not judging others until we are in their shoes.
We know that G-d is called “HaMakom,” which literally means “the place.” For instance, in the Haggadah of Pesach, when we introduce the Four Sons, we say, Barukh hamakom, barukh hu, "Blessed be the place, Blessed is He."
The generally accepted meaning of this name is that G-d is the place of the world, and not the opposite; the world is not G-d's place. That is, the world does not hold G-d, but He rather holds the entire universe in His "hands," so that it will not collapse.
Earlier, we quoted the Mishna (Avot 2,4): “Do not judge your friend until you reach his place." Here, "place" takes on a new meaning: not a physical location, but rather one's consciousness and awareness. Just as we cannot judge someone until we totally understand his situation, Hashem, too, does not judge a person until He penetrates the person, as it were, and takes into account all the reasons and circumstances and pressures that faced him when he did a particular act.
Rabbe Nachman explains that when we say that G-d is in every place, we mean that He is in every point of departure from where a person set off to do what he did. He judges him from the person's own place and point of departure, for Hashem is there, in every place. This is what makes G-d’s justice so right and true, as Moshe stated in his parting speech in the Song of Haazinu:
אֵ-ל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא.
He is a faithful G-d, without injustice; He is righteous and upright.