Insights on KI Tavo

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple,

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple


Every family knows how hard it is to go on a family holiday.

Everything packed after constant arguments about what to take, parents and children pile into the car and set off. It is probably quite a long journey and fractious children make it worse.

“Aren’t we there yet?” they keep asking. “Not far now,” replies the sorely tried driver, fully aware that it will take at least another hour or two. Amazingly, next year they’ll do it all again!

Not that interminable journeys are a modern problem. Imagine what it was like for the B’nei Yisra’el in the wilderness, knowing that their arrival in the Promised Land was not likely to be an soon or easy. Just look at the opening verses of this week’s reading – “When you come to the Land which the Lord our God gives you…” (Deut. 26:1-3).

It took forty years (even the most fractious modern family never has such a lengthy trek), but on arrival a new reality had to be confronted – settling in, adjusting, carving out a future, and establishing a regime on the basis of the moral law of the Torah constitution.

Some Israelites constantly looked back, nostalgic for what they were used to.

But the best way to face a new chapter in life is to live for tomorrow, not yesterday, and to say it’s a time to create. As the Aliyah song used to say, “to build and to be rebuilt”.

Olim who arrive in Israel need to decide that Israel isn’t France or America: it’s Israel, and Olim have to help make it the best Israel they can.


The collection of curses which we call the “Tochechah” frightens the most unemotional amongst us. What God threatens for disobedience is truly horrific.

One of the hassidic rebbes, Rabbi Yechi’el Me’ir of Gostinin, noticed that there is only one specific sin which the section identifies: “Because you didn’t serve the Lord your God in joy and good cheer” (Deut. 28:47).

Obviously the Torah is not going to forgive us for the whole sheaf of infractions which we carry out, but the only one it names is the sin of being in a bad mood.

One could of course say that this is a general piece of advice, and we have to do our best to be in a good mood at all times. But as Rabbi Yechi’el Me’ir notices, what the Torah is talking about is our mood in the way we conduct ourselves towards God.

If we pray with a sour face, it shows we don’t really believe in what we are doing. If we invoke the name of God but don’t smile as we do, it is a transgression against the rule of the Shema to love God with all our heart, soul and might.

If we eat kosher food but complain all the time, it shows we aren’t behaving with the appropriate enthusiasm about obeying the will of the Creator.

There’s something lacking if we can’t be happy and gracious about being Jewish.


Opening words like “when you come into the land” (Deut. 26:1) offer an irresistible homiletical opportunity and challenge to a rabbi in the weeks before Rosh Hashannah.

They inevitably invite comparisons with people making their annual pilgrimage to the synagogue.

Let me relate a story.

One Shabbat morning not long ago my wife and I arrived at a synagogue in the Diaspora where the security personnel did not know us.

We naturally said “Shabbat Shalom” and they reciprocated, but they added the question, “Where are you from, and what brought you here?”

With my strange sense of humour I said, “We’re from Israel, and El Al and Cathay Pacific brought us here!”.

That’s not quite what they expected, but they let us in for the service regardless.

What they really wanted to know must have been whether we had come for a Bar-Mitzvah or some other special event. The fact that we had merely come to daven was too hard for them. (I didn’t dare say that I was the guest speaker!)

The problem that many people have is rather similar – it takes a special event to bring them to shul. I would love to find them saying, “We’re here to daven, and God invited us!”

There is a story about the Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, which suggests another approach. A group of hassidim came to visit the rabbi and expected him to talk about Jewish law. To their surprise, the rabbi merely asked them, “Where does God live?”

They laughed: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of His glory?”

But the rabbi answered his own question. “God lives,” he said, “wherever man lets Him in”.

The question for Rosh Hashannah is not whether God will let us in, but whether we will let Him in…

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