Ki Savo 2
week’s portion is perhaps the most difficult to read in all of the Torah. A
good deal speaks, in frightening detail, of the punishments that will befall the
Jewish people, if we do not act in the manner that G-d prescribes.
many of these predictions have already come true. But we can take solace in the
fact that through all of these horrible trials and tribulations, we are still
we must ask ourselves, what has enabled us to go on, in the face of this
horrible adversity, to continue being proud Jews?
know that in every portion, even though there may appear to be unrelated laws
and/or stories, in reality these things have an intrinsic connection.
these punishments are mentioned, there are a few commandments mentioned in this
week’s portion. One of these commandments is the commandment of the tithes.
Every Jew had to give a tithe to the Levites. He also had to give a second tithe
that worked on a three year cycle. The first and second year he would take the
tithe to Jerusalem and eat it there. The third year he would give it to poor
people (this is besides the perennial obligation to leave over a corner of the
field for poor people and any bundles or single sheaves of produce which were
either forgotten or left behind).
the first and second year, when he would be obligated to bring it to Jerusalem
and eat it there, he had to fulfill certain obligations in his eating it: “I
have not eaten of it in my mourning, I did not consume it in a state of
contamination, and I did not give of it for the needs of the dead” (Deut. Ch.
are the reasons for this?
We see that all three prohibitions, eating it while mourning, while
coming into contact with something which touched a dead body, and not using the
produce in any part of burial process, are connected with death.
recognizes that death is a normal part of life, and must be confronted in a
healthy way. However, part and parcel of confronting death is emphasizing the
fact that being in a perpetual state of mourning is not part of our modus
operandi. Yes, when a relative dies, we focus on him in the year following his
death; during the part of the year known as the three weeks, we focus on the sad
aspects of our history. Nevertheless, our primary focus must be one of happiness
and joy. As King David wrote in psalms: serve G-d in happiness (Psalms Ch. 100).
commandment of the tithe that is eaten in Jerusalem is one of joy and
affirmation. When a farmer sees that G-d has blessed him with a crop he feels
tremendous gratitude. To further strengthen that feeling of gratitude, he takes
a part of that crop and goes to eat it in the palace of the King — Jerusalem.
And this trip is made with an accompanying feel of joy — joy to be alive and
to be able to have a relationship with G-d. The focus of our lives must be one
of happiness and pride in our Judaism. If we have these two things — embodied
by this commandment of the second tithe, and how it is to be eaten — then even
in the worst of times, we will be able to draw upon them.
This has enabled to survive so long.
The great Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer of Vilna writes that the manifestation of the evil inclination is one of depression, and the manifestation of the positive inclination is one of joy. G-d desires that we be happy. A prophet was not able to receive prophetic visions if he had any trace of depression. Let us strive, particularly at this point of the year when we are being judged by G-d, to do our best to be joyful and proud of our Judaism.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.