Parashat Ki Tavo
Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8
Our Torah portion tells us that following the Torah is the path of blessing, while abandoning Her is the path of curses. After enumerating many blessings that promise us material wellbeing, we find: “Blessed are you in your entering and blessed are you in your leaving.” (Deut. 28:6) What do these generalized phrases refer to?
Interpreters tend to see this “coming and going” as a reference to our daily business (Ibn Ezra) or as a reference to going out to war and returning safely from it (Hizquni). But the problem with these interpretations is that the order of the phrases would then be expected to be reversed: First we go out (- to war, to work) and then we come back in (to our homes). We begin from our homes and go out of them and return to them.
Sensing the special ordering of these phrases, Rashi echoes earlier rabbinic teachings: “May your leaving this world be as blessed and your entry into it.” Thus, the verse is not a promise, but a statement of fact and then a hope: You were given the blessing of life at your birth. May you make your entire life a blessing so that you can leave it in that spirit.
Similarly, the corresponding verse of curses says: “Cursed are you in your entering and cursed are you in your leaving.” (v. 19) But, if we follow Rashi’s approach, we encounter a difficulty. For how can our birth be called “cursed” after we have previously been told that our gift of life is a blessing? Unfortunately, Rashi is silent here.
But perhaps the message is that we actually have the power, in the way we live our lives, to give meaning retroactively to our birth and entry to the world. Although we start with the blessing of being born, we can turn the fact of our birth into a curse to be regretted, if not by ourselves, then by others who suffer on our account. Yet, if we have such a retroactive power to define our lives negatively, how important it is for us to grasp the opposite as well?
This is the meaning of teshuvah – return – the key goal of this season leading up to the Days of Awe. Even should we live our lives as a curse, we may yet turn those past cursed acts – and the entire trajectory of our life – into blessings, if we choose to mend our ways and follow blessings’ path.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein
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