23 Sep Rabbi Hillel Skolnik’s Torah Spark for Parashat Ki Tavo 5776
This Shabbat we read from Parashat Ki Tavo in which Moshe makes one more concerted effort to convince the Israelites that if they follow God’s ways they’ll be blessed and if not, then they’ll be cursed. These options are presented as two opposite extremes throughout the reading but take on their most dramatic forms during the tocheicha, the Great Rebuke, which is found in this week’s parasha. As a reward, the people are offered blessings in nearly all walks of life, and as punishment, Moshe goes into vivid detail about all the horrible things that will happen to the people and their descendants. As a concept it sounds pretty simple: following God’s laws = good and therefore reward; disobeying God’s laws = bad and therefore punishment. What complicates matters is that we read this Torah portion in the final weeks before the onset of the High Holiday season when we all are forced to confront the truth that like it or not and try as we might, none of us is perfect and we are not completely obedient all of the time.
As a result, while it might have been a constructive way of reaching the Israelites, there is a potential challenge for us when it comes to finding meaning in this passage since most of our days aren’t lived on the extremes of blessing or curse. Just as the actions of our lives are not found on the extreme of ALWAYS doing the wrong thing or ALWAYS doing the wrong thing, most of our lives are lived somewhere in the middle of the blessing vs curse spectrum where things might not be amazing but they’re not too bad either. It is in these moments that we must strive to notice the continued blessings that are a part of our lives, even if they are not as explicitly marvelous as the ones Moshe mentions. Waking up each morning, making it through the day, and watching our children experience their own lives each day – those are the blessings that God bestows upon us and we should always be thankful for them.
Rabbi Hillel Skolnik