Parashat Ki Tavo: I forgive you as you forgive me

Adrian M SchellOnly 10 more days until we celebrate the beginning of the New Jewish Year 5777. As mentioned in previous weeks, during this ‘season’ of the year, all of us are engaged in a kind of soul search; investigating whether we have sinned or not in the past year and how we can repair our relationship with others and with God.

Reading the curses of our Torah portion, this soul search gets a new twist. The Torah draws some frightening pictures for those who have transgressed the covenant with the Eternal. The question is, how can we – in the light of our Torah reading – start or continue a process of repentance and find our way to reconciliation if we are in fear of God, a fear that can become so big that we feel unable to do anything? How can we break the ice between us and God, how can we fix this holy partnership if we feel threatened?

Our Yom Kippur liturgy includes a Biblical verse spoken by God after Moses pleads for his People Israel: “And Adonay said to Moses, “I will forgive, according to your word – ‘Vayomer Adonai: Salachti Kid’varecha’.” Rabbinic love of grammatical whimsy stood the verse on its head and they reinterpreted the verse having God say, “I forgive you, salachti, the same way you forgive others, kid’varecha.” God will forgive our sins, following our honest attempts at repentance, but only to the degree that we forgive others who may have hurt us! If we are unforgiving, unbending, not willing to even listen to those who have embarrassed us or caused us pain, then God will be unforgiving, unbending and not willing to listen to us either!

In the words of the Talmud (Sotah 8b), “The heavenly court deals with us by the exact same standards that we use to deal with others – ‘midah k’neged midah – measure for measure;’” If we are kind and compassionate, we can expect to be judged by God with kindness and compassion. If we are cruel, unfairly critical of others and unforgiving, we can expect the heavenly court to deal with us with the same qualities we’ve shown to others. As we judge others, so too, are we judged. It is to our own detriment when we forget the lesson that we must work together, live together and remain together or suffer perpetual hunger. This is the reason why we engage ourselves in renewing our relationship to God and to others – not only seeking forgiveness from God for our past sins, but also to open ourselves to others for their forgiveness or to receive theirs in return.

Is it easy to seek or ask for forgiveness? If it was, we would do it all the time, spontaneously and openly. Saying “I am sorry for what I have done to offend you and bring you pain,” is not easy for the offender to say nor for the offended to accept – and yet, if there is to ever be a glimmer of hope for healing and moving toward a new tomorrow, we must attempt to actively seek out, those whom we may have hurt, and ask their forgiveness. “Salachti kid’varecha – I forgive you as you forgive me.” God will forgive our sins, following our honest attempts at repentance, and will grant us the blessings of our Torah reading.

May that forgiveness and healing begin now and may God bless us all this new year and seal us in the book of life, for life, health, parnasah-livelihood and blessing.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell


Torah Reading for Shabbat Ki Tavo

Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

Reading: Dtn 26:1-27:8 (P 1350 / H 859)

Haftarah Isaiah 60:1-22 (P 1368/ H 874)

In our parashah the Israelites are instructed to express their gratitude to God for their bountiful harvests and freedom from slavery by tithing ten percent of their crops for the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. The people are told to display on large stones God’s commandments for all to see. And The Levites are to proclaim curses upon those who violate God’s commandments. Using strong images, The Israelites are told by Moses that if they obey God’s mitzvot faithfully, they will receive every blessing imaginable. But, if they do not fulfill their covenant with God, many curses will descend upon them. At the conclusion of our reading, Moses reminds the Israelites of the miracles they witnessed in the wilderness and commands them to observe the terms of the covenant so that they may succeed in all that they undertake.

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