The portion of KiTavo opens with the commandment to bring the first fruits of one’s produce as an offering to Hashem at the Temple in Jerusalem. Beginning in Dev./Deut. 26:1, we read as follows:
It will be when you enter the land that Hashem, your God, gives you as an inheritance…you shall take the first of every fruit…and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem, your God, will choose.
The Mishnah describes this event in terms of a vibrant celebratory procession of unrestrained joy and thanksgiving that at last Israel is in the Land of Promise. In fact, a few verses later, we read “You shall be glad with all the goodness that Hashem, your God, has given you.”
Yet we are well aware that throughout the forty years of wandering in the desert, our forefathers frequently complained, rebelled, even discussed returning to Egypt. Though they had the supreme privilege of standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai, nevertheless an abiding joy and spirit of praise was not the atmosphere that pervaded the camp throughout those four decades, despite being witness to incredible miracles and an historic deliverance from slavery.
Are we any different? I think not.
Learning to live in an abiding spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving is part and parcel of spiritual growth. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, well known for his emphasis on serving Hashem with joy, taught that positive thinking is the single most important key to attaining contentment and happiness. It is written in Likutey Moharan that he said, “Know that one who is depressed cannot control his thoughts as he desires…but through joy, one can gain control of one’s mind.” And we know from Mishle/Proverbs that “As a man thinkis in his heart, so is he.” Developing the habit of being thankful on a daily basis for Hashem’s blessings, great and small, goes a long way towards producing a joyful attitude. It’s our choice to be grateful or ungrateful, to be joyful or depressed.
Continuing in this week’s portion we read Moshe’s instruction that once they have crossed the border into the Land of Israel, they are to proceed directly to the area of Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. Six tribes are told to station themselves at the summit of Mt. Ebal, to take stones and write the Torah upon them and build an altar there. The remaining six tribes are to take their positions at the summit of Mt. Ebal. Between them in the valley will be the Ark of the Covenant with the Kohanim (priests) and the Levites.
At the time of year that this took place, Mt. Gerizim was in full bloom, teeming with life. Mt Ebal, by contrast, was a barren, rocky mountain. On that barren, lifeless spot, the Torah was to be written on stones, symbolic of how Hashem gave His Torah at Sinai, written on stone tablets but also intended to be written on hearts of flesh (Gerizim). This entire event was a renewal of the Covenant given at Sinai, yet there were some marked differences.
At Sinai, the people stood at the foot of the mountain. Here the tribes occupy the summits of both mountains. As the curses are proclaimed from the top of Mt Ebal, the tribes exclaim “Amen” from the summit of both mountains, expressing their commitment to Hashem and to the leaders in the valley below. At Sinai, they had distanced themselves and told Moses to speak to Hashem in their stead.
There are twelve initial curses followed by twelve blessings (though in some commentaries, the blessings are counted differently) and then followed again by an extensive and detailed list of curses that will befall the people of Israel if they do not adhere to the instructions of the Torah.
The proclamations are so arranged that no one will ever be able to say that he did not know the repercussions of failing to keep God’s Torah.
Our reading ends with these words: “Therefore, observe faithfully all the terms of this covenant, that you may succeed in all that you undertake.”
In Tune with Torah this week = make time to ponder thoughtfully the curses and the blessings which God pronounced through the mouth of Moses (Dev. 27-28) and as Israel did on Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, renew your own commitment to live in keeping with the Torah’s commandments – and may we all say a hearty Amen!