Ki Tavo – Torah in Haiku



Deuteronomy 29:1-3
Moses summoned all Israel, and said to them: You have seen all that G-d did in Egypt before your very eyes, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land. Your own eyes saw the great miracles, signs and wonders. But until this day, G-d did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.

These verses seem contradictory. First Moses reminds the people what they had seen since Egypt. But then says “until this day” we could not “know … see … [or] hear.” Until now we could see and hear, but we did not really see or hear. It took 40 years of wandering and wondering, of complaining (by us) and commanding (by G-d) for our hearts to understand how former slaves could become a holy nation. Finally our ancestors were ready to enter the land promised by G-d.

The idea of “not really seeing” brought to mind this prayer, which my congregation uses in modified form during the High Holy Days:

Listen – by Rabbis Jack Riemer and Harold Kushner

Judaism begins with the commandment: Hear, O Israel!
But what does it really mean to hear?

The person who attends a concert with a mind on business,
Hears-but does not really hear.

The person who walks amid the songs of the birds
And thinks only of what will be served for dinner, hears-but does not really hear.

The one who listens to the words of a friend, or spouse, or child, and does not catch the note of urgency: “Notice me, help me, care about me,” hears-but does not really hear.

The person who listens to the news and thinks only of how it will affect business,
Hears-but does not really hear.

The person who stifles the sound of conscience and thinks “I have done enough already,”
Hears-but does not really hear.

The person who hears the Hazzan pray And does not feel the call to join in prayer,
Hears-but does not really hear.

The person who listens to the rabbi’s sermon and thinks that someone else is being addressed, Hears – but does not really hear

On this Shabbat, O Lord, Sharpen our ability to hear.

May we hear the music of the world, and the infant’s cry, and the lover’s sigh.
May we hear the call for help of the lonely soul, and the sound of the breaking heart.

May we hear the words of our friends, and also their unspoken pleas and dreams.

May we hear within ourselves the yearnings that are struggling for expression.

May we hear You, O G-d.

For only if we hear You
Do we have the right to hope That You will hear us.

Hear the prayers we offer to You this day, O G-d, And may we hear them too.

Image: Shema Yisrael at the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem via Wikimedia Commons

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