Central to parshat Ki Tavo, which we read this past Shabbat, is the section which lists the blessings which will come to the children of Israel if they walk in Gd’s ways and then the Tokhakha follows, the warning, which describes the things that will befall the people if they are not faithful.
The blessings and curses can be viewed as a symbolic reminder of our covenantal obligations, reinforcing our commitment to a covenant rooted in acts, not only words.
Expanding on this theme, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also invokes our covenant with Gd when he asserts that the blessings and curses are meant to impart a sense of our partnership with the Divine as we struggle to cope with good and evil. Observing the Torah’s written laws is not enough to continually bring sanctity into our lives. The Torah not only stipulates that certain acts are prohibited, but it also demands that we accept our responsibility to foster and maintain an ethical and just society.
In his widely-read volume, Gd in Search of Man, Heschel writes:
It is in the deeds that human beings become aware of what life really is, of their power to harm and to hurt, to wreck and to ruin; of their ability to derive joy and bestow it upon others…The deed is the test, the trial, and the risk. What we perform may seem slight, but the aftermath is immense.
Understood this way, mitzvot ben adam l’chavero - commandments between human beings – totally speak to our covenant with Gd. The majority of the mitzvot found in this Torah portion focus on supporting ethical and compassionate relationships with other human beings, and on creating just communities.
Heschel further taught that we have the opportunity to heal our world and to make it a place of peace. The list of blessings and curses in the Torah reminds us that we must choose every day to be active partners with Gd, working to repair the world.
This work must be individually as well as communally-based if we are to build a truly just society. We do not only hold the fate of our personal lives in our hands, we also hold the fate of all human beings. Through acts of holiness, we help to cause Gd’s presence to dwell in our midst and to become sacred instruments through which Gd’s justice, goodness, mercy, and love enter and improve the world. In other words, Tikkun Olam!!
I hope you’re all having a shavua tov – a good week.
Rabbi Marge Wise
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