As we head down the home stretch of the year 5774, this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, shows Moses continuing to exhort the Israelites about how to behave in the future, aware that his own tie with them is coming to a close.
The portion begins on a bright note and gets progressively darker. First, we read instructions for the offering of the first fruits, which Maimonides tells us was a really happy event, with growing parades of travelers to Jerusalem, festive baskets to carry the offerings, recitation of the same ceremonial words (“My father was a wandering Aramean…”) acknowledging Who was in the end responsible for their goodies, and lots of music and singing. Sounds like fun. Donation of the tithes for the Levites, resident aliens, orphans, and widows, is done with similar ceremony. This enables one to donate mindfully.
The people are commanded to write the Law for all to see on Mount Ebal, on large rocks covered with plaster, with an altar of unhewn stones for offering sacrifices nearby. As I’ve noted here before (thanks, David), writing large amounts of text on stone for display in this manner, sometimes carved directly rather than written on plaster, was a not uncommon practice of ancient rulers in this part of the world, but their purpose was typically to boast of their deeds, rather than teach their laws. Now we get darker and more theatrical. The tribes are to assemble on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, six on each mountain, with the Levites in the valley between them. The Levites are to call out a series of 12 curses, to each of which the people respond “Amen!”
What follows in our text is a set of blessings, good things that will happen if the Israelites behave themselves and obey the law: fertility, riches, respect, and other obvious goodies. Then comes the darkest part of our reading, 54 verses of really graphic curses, starting with “But if you do not obey…” (28:15). This is known as the Tochachah (warning, admonition) and is read quickly and quietly by the Torah reader. We read the “minor” Tochachah in Leviticus 26:3-46 . Why two sets of warnings? The populations addressed are clearly different, naïve slaves versus adults ready to conquer a land. What are some significant differences between the two sets? My summary:
|Singular,* to each individual Israelite||Plural,* to the nation as a whole, regarding broad, national sinning||Or HaChaim|
|Said by Moses in the name of God||Said by God||Rav Moshe Bergman|
|No consolation afterward – individual will be punished||Consolation – still a chance for national redemption||The nation can eventually recover, not necessarily the individual sinner. (Ozer Alport)|
|God is clearly the one punishing, like a parent.||Theme of abandonment by God (parent), punishments thought by Israel to be by chance||Rav Moshe Bergman|
|Curses are uniformly horrible.||Successive sets of curses increasing in severity if disobedience continues||IGP. In Lev., like a parent trying to train a child to behave, resorting to harsher punishments as deemed necessary. In Deut., everything is laid on the line at once, like communicating with a more responsible teen or adult.|
*Singular vs. plural “you” is evident in the Hebrew.
There’s no explicit consolation after the curses in Ki Tavo, but there is a little reassurance by Moses, who recognizes, albeit a little grudgingly, that they are no longer helpless children but have matured (more or less) to the point of joining with the Lord in the covenant, thus succeeding as a nation.
After all that darkness, it is a relief to read the haftarah, Isaiah 60:1-22, the sixth haftarah of consolation, a vision of light and dawn and peace.
From “Kindergarten” on the album“Why is there Air?” by Bill Cosby [One of my favorite Cosby routines. Kindergarten and 1st grade hadn’t changed a whole lot between Cosby’s time and mine in the Philadellhia public schools.]
“…I was playing with my navel. You know, ‘Oh, navel, navel…’ My mother said, ‘All right – keep playing with your navel. Pretty soon you’re going to break it wide open, the air’s gonna come right out of your body, you’ll fly around backward for 30 seconds, land, you’ll be flat as a piece of paper, nothing but your little eyes bugging out. Keep it up.’ I used to carry bandaids with me in case I had an accident.”
by Tom Rubenoff 1,085 Followers
How To Threaten Your Kid [excerpts]
Right off the top I want to say to all you would-be chastisers that you should not threaten your kid. Love them, punish them, reward them, and negotiate with them. But if you do threaten them, only make threats you are fully prepared to carry out. …I am not talking about dire threats, bucko. I’m talking about threats that are going to get you somewhere, threats that will get a room clean or the homework done but won’t make your kid hate you too much. Threats like this:
- If you don’t clean your room by X o’clock, I’m going to clean it. Everything I find out of place that I like, I’m going to keep. Or better yet, I’ll give it toyour sister.
- If you don’t tell me where you are going and whom you are going with, I will get a Facebook page and friend all your friends.
- If you don’t do your laundry, I’ll do it with this lime green bathrobe and every piece of clothing you own – bras, underwear, socks, jeans – everything will be some shade of green. Yup. Every day for you would be St. Patty’s Day.
- If you don’t put the notebook computer away when you’re done with it, I will use parental controls to restrict your Internet access to Disney Kids sites only.
- If you don’t treat your nine-year-old little sister with respect, I will give you the same rules I give her. Yup, your bed time’s gonna be 7:30 and you’ll only be able to watch G-rated movies. Does that work for you?
A nice touch, follow each threat with, “You have ten seconds to comply.”
Do I use these threats? Of course not! MY kids are good.
This parent who turns being grounded into a game
Selected Old and New Yiddish Curses
Favorite Old Yiddish Curses
May you be a person of leisure, take a daily nap – and may the lice in your shirt marry the bedbugs in your mattress and may their offspring set up residence in your underwear.
May you enjoy a good time with plenty of good Vodka – and may your blood turn to whiskey, so that 100 bedbugs get drunk on it and dance the mazurka in your belly button.
NEW Yiddish Curses For Jewish Young Adults in the New Millennium
May your mother get you a fun new app that allows her to reach you more easily, and may you learn it also has a tracking device and “just knows” what you’re up to, then repeats in her voice: “You’re breaking my heart!”
May the men in your family be blessed with luxurious hair that remains thick and curly well into their eighties, and may you be the only one to inherent great-zayde Yossel’s recessive gene for male pattern baldness which kicks in the day after your Bar Mitzvah!
May it be Christmas Day, and while your gentile friends are eating ham, surrounded by red and green lights and holly boughs, sitting around a gezunta tree, opening presents, may the only Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant within 50 miles be “closed for renovations!”
May you be a hard-working Jewish writer, and may you be studious, conscientious, and passionate in your work, and may you have wonderful readers who appreciate your humor, your research, and your dedication – and may every ethnic humor book publisher say, “too Jewish!”
Published: October 24, 2011
Interesting Russian Signs
Direct translation, “Attention! The dog is mean, and the owner is even worse.”
Direct Translation: “Throw garbage here – Die by Shovel.”
Direct translation, “Anyone who drowns will no longer get to swim in the ocean. “