Shabbat Ki Tavo: I wish this was over

בַּבֹּ֤קֶר תֹּאמַר֙ מִֽי־יִתֵּ֣ן עֶ֔רֶב וּבָעֶ֥רֶב תֹּאמַ֖ר מִֽי־יִתֵּ֣ן בֹּ֑קֶר מִפַּ֤חַד לְבָֽבְךָ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּפְחָ֔ד וּמִמַּרְאֵ֥ה עֵינֶ֖יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּרְאֶֽה׃ In the morning you shall say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening you shall say, “If only it were morning!”—because of what your heart shall dread and your eyes shall see (Deuteronomy 28.67)

Our parashat hashavua is a painful one; Ki Tavo is full of horrifying warnings of what will happen to us if we, as a community made up of individuals with free will, do not live in accordance with the mitzvot. 

וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־לֹ֤א תִשְׁמַע֙ בְּקוֹל֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לִשְׁמֹ֤ר לַעֲשׂוֹת֙ אֶת־כׇּל־מִצְוֺתָ֣יו וְחֻקֹּתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם וּבָ֧אוּ עָלֶ֛יךָ כׇּל־הַקְּלָל֥וֹת הָאֵ֖לֶּה וְהִשִּׂיגֽוּךָ׃

But if you do not obey your God יהוה to observe faithfully all the commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day, all these curses shall come upon you and take effect (Devarim 28.15)

This idea can be “dumbed down” into the vision of a cruel puppet master, but for those who are capable of seeing a deeper truth in the command to “observe faithfully.” All it takes is one look at these lines from the Shema:

הִשָּֽׁמְר֣וּלָכֶ֔םפֶּ֥ןיִפְתֶּ֖הלְבַבְכֶ֑םוְסַרְתֶּ֗םוַעֲבַדְתֶּם֙אֱלֹהִ֣יםאֲחֵרִ֔יםוְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶ֖םלָהֶֽם׃

Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them.

וְעָצַ֤ראֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙וְלֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֣המָטָ֔רוְהָ֣אֲדָמָ֔הלֹ֥אתִתֵּ֖ןאֶת־יְבוּלָ֑הּוַאֲבַדְתֶּ֣םמְהֵרָ֗המֵעַל֙הָאָ֣רֶץהַטֹּבָ֔האֲשֶׁ֥רהנֹתֵ֥ןלָכֶֽם׃

The skies will be shut up so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that ‘ה is assigning to you. (Deut 11.16-17)

What are the “other gods”? They are not the wooden idols that Isaiah speaks of derisively; they are real gods, those of fame and fortune, of power and of greed. In short, all the gods that are worshipped today by too many people. As a result, this warning has come to pass in our day:

וְהָי֣וּ חַיֶּ֔יךָ תְּלֻאִ֥ים לְךָ֖ מִנֶּ֑גֶד וּפָֽחַדְתָּ֙ לַ֣יְלָה וְיוֹמָ֔ם וְלֹ֥א תַאֲמִ֖ין בְּחַיֶּֽיךָ׃

The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival (Devarim 28.66)

The skies are shut up when there is supposed to be rain! And the “other gods” that are worshipped, the gods of capitalism gone awry and rewarding the greatest greed rather than the greatest love, are still being followed. And the results are terrifying; the sins of humanity and Mother Earth’s pain are written in the daily news.

The parashah comes every year to warn us and to frighten us. This year may it move us all to climate justice action. And let us do so within the supportive context of our Jewish community, still reminding us that there is also joy, and the need to give thanks, within us all, even now.

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