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Rabbi Yael Splansky

Rabbi Yael Splansky

Sometimes the weekly Torah portion and the weekly newspapers speak to one another.

This was such a week.

Shabbat Ki Tavo, 5775
Holy Blossom Temple

In memory of Alan Kurdi, age three

  1. IDENTITY.

Deuteronomy 26: 5-10

You shall recite as follows before Adonai your God:  “My father was a wandering Aramean.  He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation.  The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labour upon us.  We cried to the Eternal, the God of our ancestors, and the Eternal One heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.  The Eternal God freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents.  God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, Adonai, have given me.” 

a.)  Storytelling is a powerful tool for shaping identity.  Briefly tell one migration story from your own family.  How does that story shape your identity?  your character?

  1. ) Most prayers recorded in the Torah are crafted by the worshipper him/herself. This is a rare example of a pre-scripted prayer. We recite these very words each year at the Pesach seder.  What are the advantages of a pre-scripted prayer?  How might its impact be even greater than an individual’s prayer of the heart?
  2. ) Notice the shift in pronouns – from first person singular to first person plural, then back again to singular. What’s going on here?
  1. CHARACTER.

Deuteronomy 26:  12-15

You shall leave it before the Eternal your God and bow low before the Eternal your God.  And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the Eternal your God has bestowed upon you and your household.  When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield…and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements, you shall declare before the Eternal your God:  “I have cleared out the sacred portion from the house; and I have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, just as you have commanded me.  I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of your commandments…  Look down from Your holy station, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our ancestors.” 

d.)  Do gratitude and generosity come naturally?  easily?   How are these attributes acquired?  The commandment is to “enjoy” sharing what we have with those who depend on it.   Do you take pleasure in your tzedakah?

e.)  A secure home in the land of Israel is described as a reward for treating the vulnerable with kindness.  What is the relationship between a country’s stability and its treatment of people at risk?

f.) Deuteronomy 28:43 warns of a particular curse which will befall a people who do not live by mitzvot.  “The stranger in your midst shall rise above you higher and higher, while you sink lower and lower.  He shall be your creditor, but you shall not be his; he shall be the head and you the tail.”  How does this curse still haunt us today?

III.  FAITH.

Deuteronomy 28: 64 – 66

The Eternal will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced.  Yet even among those nations you shall find no peace, nor shall your foot find a place to rest.  The Eternal will give you there an anguished heart and eyes that pine and a despondent spirit.  The life you face will be precarious. You shall be in terror night and day, with no assurance of survival. 

g.)  What does this text teach about the relationship between homelessness and faithlessness?

Deuteronomy 29:4-5

I led you through the wilderness forty years; the clothes on your back did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet; you had no bread to eat and no wine or other intoxicant to drink – that you might know the I, Adonai, am your God.

h.)  What does this text teach about God and the wanderer?

  1. ACTION.

Michael Walzer on the Prophet Amos and universal freedoms

When I went to North Carolina in 1960 to meet and write about the black students who were sitting-in at segregated lunch counters, I listened to a remarkable sermon by a Baptist minister who not only described, but also mimed the Israelite exodus. He cringed under the whip, he stood at Sinai, he marched across the desert. For him, our story did not belong only to us. …The civil rights movement of those years aimed at a future liberation (and worried that it might take 40 years). And this liberation would be particular to African-American history as our liberation is particular to our history – though it too might serve to inspire struggles for freedom in other times and places.

There is a political maxim that follows nicely from both of these histories: The liberation of the people can only be the work of the people themselves. Others can help, and should, but each liberation is a singular event.…

We are delivered by God, carried out of Egypt on eagle’s wings. But does Israel’s God provide such extraordinary services to any other people?  One of my favorite prophetic texts, from the book of Amos, suggests that God does.

To me, O Israelites, you are
Just like the Ethiopians – declares the Lord. True, I brought Israel up
From the land of Egypt,
But also the Philistines from Caphtor
And the Arameans from Kir.
(Amos 9:6-7)

Amos tells us that there have been many deliverances, though of the people mentioned here only we have survived to remember ours.

  1. ) Walzer, a political philosopher asserts: “The liberation of the people can only be the work of the people themselves. Others can help, and should, but each liberation is a singular event.…” How can/must/will we participate in the liberation of other peoples today?
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