Torah Weekly

For the week ending 9 September 2006 / 16 Elul 5766

Parshat Ki Tavo

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

When Bnei Yisrael dwell in the Land of Israel, its first fruits are to be taken to the Temple and given to the kohen in a ceremony expressing recognition that it is G-d who guides the history of the Jewish People throughout all ages. This passage forms one of the central parts of the Haggadah that we read at the Passover Seder. On the last day of Pesach of the fourth and seventh years of the seven-year shemitta cycle, a person must recite a disclosure stating that he has indeed distributed the tithes to the appropriate people in the prescribed manner. With this mitzvah Moshe concludes the commandments that G-d has told him to give to the Jewish People. Moshe exhorts them to walk in G-d's ways, because they are set aside as a treasured people to G-d. When Bnei Yisrael cross the Jordan River they are to make a new commitment to the Torah. Huge stones are to be erected and the Torah is to be written on them in the world's seventy primary languages, after which they are to be covered over with a thin layer of plaster. Half the tribes will stand on Mount Gerizim, and half on Mount Eval, and the levi'im will stand in a valley between the two mountains. There the levi'im will recite 12 commandments and all the people will answer "amen" to the blessings and the curses. Moshe then details the blessings that will be bestowed upon Bnei Yisrael. These blessings are both physical and spiritual. However if the Jewish People do not keep the Torah, Moshe details a chilling picture of destruction, resulting in exile and wandering among the nations.

Insights

The End Of The Plot

“You will be a source of astonishment, a parable and a conversation piece, amongst all the people where G-d will lead you.”

There are two kinds of Jewish jokes — jokes by Jews, and jokes about Jews. The former is a kind of psychological protection against the latter.

Anti-Semitic jokes go back much further than you might think. In the Midrash Eicha Rabati (Pesikta 17), Rabbi Abahu describes how non-Jews ridiculed us in their theaters and their circuses. They used to get drunk and say, “How long do you want to live? “ Then another would reply, “As long as a Jew’s Shabbat coat. “ Nothing lasts longer than a Shabbat coat because it’s only worn once a week. Ho. Ho. Sidesplitting stuff this.

Another joke they told was to bring a camel into the circus-ring covered with sacks. One then said to the other, “Why is this camel wearing sack-cloth, is it in mourning?” The other then says, ‘Well, how would you feel if you had no food? The Jews didn’t harvest their land in the seventh year, so now they’re all starving and they’re eaten the thorns that were this poor camel’s lunch and dinner and breakfast.”

That’s the second kind of Jewish joke.

The first kind is a defense against an unkind world, a world of suffering and rejection — a world of exile.

Belorussia. Mid-winter. Temperature: -45° Fahrenheit. Moishe and Shloime are lying shivering in their tattered coats on two iron beds.

Moishe: "Shloime, close the window, it's cold outside."

Shloime: "Moishele, and if I close the window, it should be warm outside?"

Behind every Jewish joke there's a Jewish tear. A wry bittersweet feeling of two thousand years of exile. Tears of sadness. Tears of hope.

It’s ironic that the Yiddish theater excelled at the kind of Jewish jokes of which the ancient Greeks and Romans would have been proud. Their favorite target was the un-worldly yeshiva student let loose in ‘the big wide world.’

Can there be surer sign of the depths of our exile than when Jews view Jews through the eyes of anti-Semitism?

Mind you, the Yiddish theater is today an arcane backwater in the history of the theater, while “The Yeshiva Student” is an international hit from Bnei Brak to Gateshead.

So it’s not too difficult to work out the end of the plot.

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