Ki Tavo: The Blessings of an Understanding Heart

Why the order in our Parsha, Ki Tavo?

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism כולל חב"ד חוגג בר מצווה ייחודי
כולל חב"ד חוגג בר מצווה ייחודי

Dedicated to my grandson Noam Grunstein of Efrat, on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah

Our Rabbis say that in the book of Devarim (Deutoronomy) we “doreish semuchin”, expound lessons from the fact that one section of the Torah is written next to its neighbor. This is because this book is different from the other four books of the Torah: this book is the wisdom of the Lord as filtered through the very human mind of Moses. Therefore, although the usual rule is אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה; the order of chapters that we see in the Torah is not chronological, and thus our human brain cannot deduce lessons from the order of the text, which follows inscrutable Divine logic- here in Devarim, who can learn such lessons.

Therefore we can ask: why the order in our Parsha, Ki Tavo? The opening of Ki Tavo deals with bikkurim, the first fruits (Devarim 26, 1-11). The next section deals with the Vidui Ma’aser, the declaration made Erev Pesach of the fourth year of the Ma’aser(Tithe) cycle(verses 12-15). The declaration ends: “(We have done what is incumbent upon us. Now do what You promised and) look down from Your holy abode in heaven, and bless Your people Israel”. Why is bikkurim listed here at all, and why before the Tithe Declaration; and why finish with the request for Heavenly blessing based on our doing what we were supposed to do in the first place?

Rav Matis Weinberg answers these questions based on the Gemara in Avodat Zara (5a). This Gemara explains the verse in Devarim chapter 5(verse 26): “ מי יתן, who can cause it that  their hearts would remain like this, fearing Me and keeping all My commandments eternally, so that things would be good for them and their children forever?”. The Talmud says:

“The Rabbis learned: When the Almighty said this, Moshe Rabbeinu turned to the Jews and said :’You are ingrates (kfuyei tova) the children of ingrates. The moment that the Holy One said :’Who can cause it?’, the nation should have answered: ‘You, Lord, You should cause it!’. Thus proving, you are ingrates!’”

Forty years before our Parsha, at Sinai, the Jews did not give the proper answer. They were ingrates in the sense of refusing any good and blessing; as recipients, they would necessarily be in a subordinate role to the giver. They felt squeezed and constrained by the Lord’s blessing; that is the literal meaning of kfuy, bound up, by tova, good. Hence, they were ingrates who refused to be blessed, repudiating good.

However, a generation later, the Jews about to enter the Holy Land had acquired a לב לדעת, a knowledgeable heart (Devarim 29; 3, at the end of Parshat Ki Tavo) to recognize G-d’s kindness (hakarat tova). This new generation is not one of ingrates, because of da’at, knowledge. Da’at in Hebrew is literally creative connection, and besides its use for the word” knowledge”, also is used for sexual creativity (“And Adam knew his wife Eve and bore him Cain”; Genesis 4; 1). These children of ingrates, about to enter a creative Covenant with the Lord, possessed hearts capable of saying: אתה תתן, You, Lord, give- and thus could declare השקיפה ממעון קדשך, look down from Your holy abode and bless your people, in the declaration of the Tithes, in our Parsha.

If someone were to think that Divine blessings were an end unto themselves, then he would be standing before his Creator as a modern Esau (Eisav the son of Jacob), whose name translates to “asui, finished product”. This was how Eisav viewed the Divine blessings he received via his father Isaac’s prophecy. Such a person, coming to the Lord with a shopping list of requests for blessings, turns those requests into a base exercise in narcissism. He sees those blessings as a final goal (tachlit), and not a base from which to perfect himself. An Eisav, a kfui tova, repudiates any good, coming as it does with connection (da’at) to the giver; in this case, a connection obligating improving his self- because as far as he is concerned, his self has been “asui”, made and finished, since birth. 

Not so a ben Yisrael, an Israelite who is a “bar da’at”, possessor of a knowledgeable heart of da’at (which a Jew gets  at Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the age of puberty, of creative connection). Such a Jew, at the beginning (ראשית, as in “first fruits”, bikkurim) of his path, whether a path through the holy Land, or his path through life, does not think like an Eisav. Such a Jew looks at the blessings bestowed upon him by the Lord, as a mere start on life. He understands that as a start, Divine good and blessings are merely an opportunity to progress, a potential to be activated on his long path through life.

That is why this is a Parsha of Covenant, Brit ha’Arvut. A son of Israel understands, with da’at, that he is “bound” by a covenant with every other Jew, as well as “connected” to his Lord in Heaven. He understands that this Covenant, defines his identity as a ben Yisrael, a son of Israel- an identity which the Bar Mitzvah builds throughout his life. This being so, the ben Yisrael’s tithe declaration, hashkifa uvareich, look down and bless Your people Israel, shows the deep desire of the Jew to enter into this reciprocal Covenant between a Jew and his G-d: the Jew serving G-d by doing the Mitzvot (commandments, such as first fruits and tithes); and as reward for such service, he turns to his Master with the just request השקיפה וברך, look down and bless.

The order of the Parsha is now obvious: the Jew who sees his blessings as merely a beginning, a “first fruit”, is entitled to turn to the Lord with the declaration of “ Look down and bless”.