Parashat Ki Tavo
Just as the Israelites are about to cross into the land of Israel, a declaration is made: “Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all of Israel, saying: Silence! Hear, O Israel! Today you have become a people of Adonai, your Source” (Deuteronomy 27:9). This declaration is the language of relationship.
Moses and the leaders of the people say:
Now that you are entering Israel, you are a people – with individuals and a Source, and your own communal integrity. And all of you – individuals, people, and Source – are bound up in one another. Mt. Sinai was forty years ago – a Covenant with an earlier generation of Israelites who had themselves been slaves, and who arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai spiritually stuck in the golden idols of their oppressors. You, this newer generation, grew up in the desert with priests and sacrifices and laws about holiness. You are free from the slave mentality of your parents. You have always known God and one another and yourselves as free people. So you are ready for what I’m putting down: real, responsible, and fulfilling relationship.
To this generation and through this verse, Moses and the priests teach the three essentials of relationship: love, what Harriet calls sacred housekeeping, and community.
Love: Rabbi Yehudah teaches about this verse in the Talmud (Ein Yaakov, Masekhet Berakhot, Chapter 6): “the Torah shall always be beloved by its students, as if that very day it had been given on Mt. Sinai.” Each and every day Torah is new to us. Each and every day we are new to ourselves, our communities are new to us, even God is new to us. And how wonderful to be so beloved – to love myself so much – that I should wake up in the morning and chose myself, my own body, my own mind, my own soul. How wonderful to love community and God so much that it’s as if I saw them across the room for the first time and knew, just knew, we were meant for one another. Relationship requires love.
Sacred Housekeeping: In the same chapter of Talmud, Rabbi Tanchum teaches: “from this verse you may learn that a person who is accustomed to reciting the Shema prayer – who recites it every day, morning and evening – if they miss just one evening, it seems to them as if they had never recited the Shema.” Whether it’s daily meetings, a morning spiritual practice, or a ritual for cooking dinner, regular actions demonstrate those love feelings. And so they are sacred. But they are not easy, especially at first, especially when we might have to wake up early to talk to God or to make our beds, but they are how we show love – to God, to others, and to ourselves.
Community: About this verse Rabbi Yossi teaches also in the same chapter that we should organize ourselves intro groups to learn Torah, “because they Torah is internalized only if studied in company… Those who study alone become foolish.” We cannot do relationship alone. If we try to do relationship alone, we live in our heads, imagining and assuming what others feel and experience. Alone with the text, we begin to assume that we know God, maybe that we are God in our terminal uniqueness. We need community to get out of our limited experience. Even in relationship with ourselves we need others to hold up a mirror and say: “this is the Divine that I see in you” when we can’t see it for ourselves. Relationship cannot be done alone.
And we need all three. If we have love and regular action, but no community, we become codependent. If we have sacred housekeeping and community, but no love, we build resentments. If we have love and community, but no sacred housekeeping, we have no trust.
This generation is ready for the responsibility of all three. No more manna from heaven. No more water from the rock. Now, they will enter the land of Israel and till the land, grow their own food and irrigate their own water. Now they will build a Temple and make pilgrimage three times per year. They are ready to be in responsible relationship with themselves, God, and others.
Covenant is a necessity of recovery. In recovery, we get out of the slave mentality, out of addiction, and train our ears to hear: you are part of something bigger. This is our declaration that we’re ready to move out of the wilderness and into the land of responsibility.