Parshat Ki Tavo
Sept. 20, 2008
20 Elul 5768
The return of the exiled masses presented Jerusalem with an auspicious religious moment: \”Raise your eyes and look about: They have all gathered and come to you. Your sons shall be brought from afar, your daughters like babes on shoulders. As you behold you will glow; your heart will throb and thrill (pahad v\’rakhav leivavkha) …\” (Verses 4-5) The city that had suffered watching its citizenry taken into captivity, now is commanded to watch its sons and daughters return along with the wealth of the nations being brought as an offering. How can the city remain unaffected by such a moment?
This was a moment of religious ecstasy – a moment that filled the nation\’s hearts and souls with joyous emotion. The above translation describes this sensation as \”throb and thrill\” (NJPS) but a better translation might be \”awe and heartfelt emotion\”. Rabbi Joseph Kara (France 12th century) expressed it this way: \”It is human nature, when a person is bereft of all good, that when something good comes his way, a sense of trepidation befalls him.\” Rabbi Joseph Kaspi (14th century Provence) characterizes this feeling as one \”where one\’s heart flutters like someone who is afraid\”.
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) discerned another side to this religious sensitivity. He noted that this feeling exists in people when good things happen to them and when bad things happen: \”the heart is affected by the multitude of good as it is for bad things, troubles and mourning.\”
Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik (20th century US) expands Kimche\’s insight into a theological perspective. He contends that the knowledge of God can be found in these two contradictory experiences. God can be experienced not only in His great creative and world sustaining acts, but also in those experiences which seem to contradict these acts. In other words, God can be found not only in those acts which bring us joy but also in those experiences where are catastrophic and bring us pain. We are brought to awe, trepidation, and heartfelt emotions in both of these situations. One brings upon us thanksgiving and appreciation and the other yearning and atonement. (Out of the Whirlwind, pp. 135-138)
It is tragic to find God only in the latter sorts of situation and for many people the abyss is their first glimpse of the need for a relationship with the Ribbono shel Olam – the Master of the World – but both extremes – each the antithesis of the other, lend themselves to this opportunity. May we be inspired by our blessings but may we also find meaning in our moments of need.