Text and Time Capsules: Parashat Ki Tavo

Drawing on the writing of Professors Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Moshe Halbertal and David Roskies, and Yehuda Amichai to explore ideas of text, memory and history in Judaism today. Download here.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10

וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים וַיְעַנּוּנוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה. וַנִּצְעַק אֶל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה אֶת קֹלֵנוּ וַיַּרְא אֶת עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת לַחֲצֵנוּ. וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה מִמִּצְרַיִם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל וּבְאֹתוֹת וּבְמֹפְתִים. וַיְבִאֵנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וַיִּתֶּן לָנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ. וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה לִּי יְהוָה וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.

5 And you shall answer and say before the Eternal your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. 7 And we cried unto the Eternal, the God of our ancestors, and the Eternal heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the Eternal brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. 9 And He has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which You, O Eternal One, has given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Eternal your God, and worship before the Eternal your God.

Parashat Shoftim – commandment from where?

Here’s a little Torah study for this week’s parasha. A study of a short piece in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 23a. Here’s an extract from the handout:

This text is a powerful testament to a humanistic tendency in religious rites. In the absence of the Divine commanding voice, the sages are still able to allude to it through the transmission of rites from generation to generation.

Click here to download the text study to read more.


Atonement in times of change: #blogelul

Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuvah 1:3

בזמן הזה שאין בית המקדש קיים ואין לנו מזבח כפרה אין שם אלא תשובה, התשובה מכפרת על כל העבירות, אפילו רשע כל ימיו ועשה תשובה באחרונה אין מזכירין לו שום דבר מרשעו שנאמר רשעת הרשע לא יכשל בה ביום שובו מרשעו, ועצמו של יום הכפורים מכפר לשבים שנאמר כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם.

At this time, when the Temple no longer stands and we do not have the altar of atonement, there is only repentance. Repentance atones for all transgressions, even if someone is wicked for their whole life and makes repentance at the last possible moment, one does not remind him of any of his wicked past, as it says, “The wickedness of the wicked person should not cause him to stumble on the day of his repentance from his wicked past.” The essence of Yom Kippur atones for the penitent, as it says, “For on this day, atonement will be made for you.” (Leviticus 16:30).

The thing about this text which has been noted by others is the way in which Maimonides points out that the essence of atonement is not really the ritualised sacrifce and the Temple Cult (I think the Mishnah, Yoma, hints at this too – 1000 years earlier). The heart of the matter is repentance – and the core component of repentance is confession and the ‘turning’ (from the behaviour or towards God). It is really quite a powerful claim because it tells us words form the heart of repentance and full atonement is possible even in times of change.

Of course, it is not surprising that Maimonides might hold this view since in the Guide of the Perplexed (Book 3, Chapter 32) he also indicates that sacrifice is not the primary object (ie not the end, but the means to an end) and that prayer is closer to the primary object – which is the unity of God and the worship of one God. Maimonides suggests that the Temple was merely an ‘in-between’ stage to wean the people off from idolatrous sacrificial practices. It’s hardly revolutionary for a philosopher to think that our thoughts have such power.

I wonder, and here’s my question, how does the ritual of repentance, merficully without sacrificing goats, have an astonishing durability in our age and does the new ‘social media’ age require us to refocus on how best to achieve the primary object?