Drash on Parashat Ki Tavo
Rabbi Aviva Kipen
Progressive Judaism Victoria
In the deep rhythm of our year, six Shabbatot from Tish’a b’Av, already anticipating the nearness of Rosh ha’Shanah, Tishrei can distract us from the ideas of consolation which the Haftarot proclaim. However, looking at the rhapsodic proclamations that Isaiah offers (Plaut 1368-1371), the faithful as reward for the “correct” life in service to God, I suspect that very few would endorse the fantasy world of luxury, bounty and physical satiety.
In the real world, whether in our current regions or in the original context of anticipating the arrival beyond the Jordan, however hard the task, whatever the nature of the harvests that greet us, we have an obligation to offer some of the best of what is at our disposal, back to God. Not lured by the idea of reward, but disciplined enough to be prepared to surrender what later Mishnayot explain as the identifying of the prize specimens of produce from The Land and to bring them in rejoicing regardless of whether the harvest has been bounteous or otherwise, Bikkurim.
There is a tension here between eretz zavad chalav u’devash, a land flowing with milk and honey (Deut. 27:3 Plaut p 1352), and the facts of weather, soil over-use, pests and competition for the food within the ecosystem. Most Progressive Jews do not continue to pray to a God who will enact plagues as retribution, starve the multitudes for their transgressions and reward others for their righteousness. We do, however, pray to a God whose generosity is a model for our own, whose standards hold us accountable despite the freewill that enables us to ignore them, and against whose yardstick we measure ourselves. Our lives are balanced between “going forth” (referencing Ki Tezei) and “coming in” (Ki Tavo), the cycles of arriving and departing, counting up (The Three Weeks prior to 9th Av) and counting down (The Seven Shabbatot of Consolation), counting up the Omer, counting down the Aseret Y’mei T’shuvah (The days between Rosh ha’Shanah to Yom Kippur) beginning and ending, living and dying.
The line between those formed in the Jewish framework of how to behave and those who are not, is vivid here. Torah is enjoined upon Bnei Ya’akov, The Children of Israel. Others have different codes to keep them accountable and to which they are loyal. We run on parallel, intertwined and overlapping by separate lines, to create the fabric of the societies in which we live. The Jewish thread in the weave is often a fragile one, while it contributes to the plurality of the whole.
The world has been watching the passing of the British monarch and the ceremonials of the accession of her son. For those with a historic allegiance to the late Queen, there is a range of attachments. Whether or not we seek to identify any allegiance to King Charles III, a range of decisions is available as to how to respond to the facts of the going out and coming in, which have the world fascinated, curious and perplexed, depending on your point of view. Counting down to the state funeral, then counting up to the eventual coronation, known patterns are embedded, known ceremonies mark out the acts of service to the obligations of duty, commitment and honour.
Watching my old Bat Mitzvah classmate on TV, the Governor of the State of Victoria, Linda Dessau AC and her husband Anthony Howard (previously Q now) KC laying a wreath in memory of Queen Elizabeth II, was an unexpected link to endings and beginnings in 2022. I found myself outside the gates of Government House on Sunday night in the dark and was invited by the security staff to park my car and sign the Condolence Book. Leafing through the writing of children and elders, the confident and the hesitant, I applied my Jewish yardstick to the feelings I had been experiencing since her death. Just as we prepare to be measured against the awe of the coming chagim, dropping pretence and seeing simply and clearly, I wondered what to add to the pure white paper.
Leaving slavery behind and standing close to the entry to a new iteration of Jewish life still brings Moses’s voice to higher and higher pitches thousands of years later. History will decide the place of EIIR, a monogram that will soon be erased and replaced. So may it be as we are given the endless opportunity to correct the records of our lives and use the days that are left to us, to leave behind what must be discarded and to step forward into the new, with all the demands it will make of us.