Ki Savo 2

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Carrying On

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


This 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.

Sadly, 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 here. 

However, we must ask ourselves, what has enabled us to go on, in the face of this horrible adversity, to continue being proud Jews?

We 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.

Before 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). 

During 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. 26 V.14).               

What 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.

Judaism 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).

The 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.

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