Ki Tavo (When you enter)

Deuteronomy 26:1 to 29:8

Moses and people holding TorahAs we near the end of the yearly Torah cycle, we read the comments of Moses emphasizing two major lessons of Torah… Then, to these comments we add an interpretation from Talmud on the proper way to study Torah.

Ki Tavo presents the end of Moses’ third discourse to the people before they enter the Promised Land. These closing remarks stress two of the major issues that Moses has covered many times throughout his discourses:

First, when the people enter the land they are to remember that their successes are a direct result of assistance from God. The Israelites are commanded to bring a basket of their first fruits as an offering to God. As they give the offering to the priest, they are to recite a passage that reminds them that without God’s help they would not have left the slavery of Egypt, survived the wilderness journey, or obtained the treasures of the land they now occupy.

Second, they are reminded that their continuing success is possible only if they continue to create a better world … a world where fellow Israelites do not suffer. The people are commanded to set aside a tenth of their yield every third year for the Levites, the fatherless, the widow, and the stranger so that all within the settlements will have food.

Thus, we see the partnership for success… God brought the Israelites out of slavery and helped them enter the Promised Land… A land filled with the natural recourses which God created…. Now it is the obligation of the Israelites to follow the laws and commandments of Torah… and to use those resources that God has provided to create the better world envisioned in Torah.

In a preface to his final words, Moses spoke… saying: “Silence! Hear, O Isael! Today you have become the people of the Eternal your God. Heed the Eternal your God and observe the divine commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you this day.” (Deut. 27:9)

In an article on a website devoted to his works, Rabbi Kook (1865-1935 – First Chief Rabbi of the pre-state of Israel) noted that the Talmud gave extra meaning to these words. The Talmud translated the opening words of this phase to be “Pay attention and Listen.” The Talmud then tells the people to “Form groups and study Torah; for Torah knowledge is only acquired through group study.” (Berachot 63b)

Rabbi Kook then quotes Rabbi Yossi (2nd century CE, student of Rabbi Akiva and regarded as one of the foremost scholars of halakha and aggadah of his day). Rabbi Yossi tells his students that by studying alone they could acquire three negative traits: intolerance, ignorance, and sin.

By studying by themselves students are not exposed to the views and ideas of their colleagues. They grow intolerant of any opinion that differs from their own interpretation. This intolerance can become a major factor in disputes and can lead to verbal and, even in some cases, physical violence.

Secondly, scholars who study alone – or even in small groups – may often not succeed in properly analyzing matters of faith and other major Torah views. Thus, Rabbi Yossi feels these “reclusive scholars” can remain ignorant and misinformed.

And a final, third, problem caused by solitary study is possible errors in Halachic decisions, Solitude could lead to major misunderstandings … “such as in the case of the Nazarite.”

Rabbi Kook sees a fundamental contradiction between the Torah lifestyle and a life of reclusiveness and rejection of the world – as is the case with the Nazarite or monastery life. He claims that Torah values community and happiness. He even goes on to say: “the pursuit of solitude and isolation from society – which many mistakenly think leads to closeness to God – is alien to the Torah’s viewpoint. This outlook is so contrary to the Torah, that even the acquisition of Torah knowledge may not be properly accomplished by solitary study” (Website- Rev Kook on the Weekly Parsha Ki Tavo: Studying Together

So, I guess Rabbi Kook is telling you to be sure to attend your Temple’s Torah Study session every Saturday morning …. Thank you Rabbi Kook.

Earl Sabes

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