Ki Tavo - weekly Torah portion
In this last and rather lengthy speech of Moses he also says the following: “This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do and keep them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have today declared the Lord to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice.” There various references as to how these commands, statutes, ordinances and ways should be handled. One has to do, and to keep, and to walk. All of them, the commands, the statutes, the ordinances and the ways are in the plural rather than in a singular form of speech. They are a collection f items that allow one to reach to a desired place in many different and diverse routes.
There is an interesting requirement “to do and keep them with all your heart and with all your soul”. It is therefore conceivable that there are cases where some cannot be actually performed all heartedly and with all the soul we have. There may be that a most important commandment, for example, “You shall not steal”; would you be willing to hold accountable that young boy or girl running out of and then back into the Ghetto in Warsaw during World War II and steal a loaf of bread to bring back to a starved and tortured family?! Can we justify holding them to be even remotely able to perform such a commandment with all their heart and soul?! Can we really demand from a person to “Honor your father and your mother” when they are abusive parents?! I do not think so. Here I believe comes the caveat thoughtfully added to this text, the command “listen to His voice.” Why was that added if there is such a long and detailed list of all of these commands, statutes, ordinances and ways? Why is there a need to demand “listen to His voice”? It should be simple – just obey what is written and that should suffice. But this is not really what is said here.
This is why I think that our teaching foes into the person’s heart and soul, and the requirement, “listen to His voice.” That listening is not just doing what you are told but rather a demand to understand what is required that goes way beyond the words and sentences presented to us. It is a demand to understand the spirit of what is written and not their translation into the words and sentences in the humanely sphere. It is taking that fundamental understanding that transpires from all of those commands, statutes, ordinances and ways and creating that layer that is the foundation for an exemplary society that we aspire to. Such a society is not necessarily an ideal society. It is a varied society where there are differences between people and situations, there are rich and poor, scholars and ignorant, different professions, and any kind of other difference between people you may want to think of. However, in an exemplary society these difference, may they be of gender, religion, education, wealth, preferences of all kinds, and many other difference, will still provide equal opportunity to every and each person, they have equal rights and equal obligations. They can improve their status in society and not be bound to where they have begun life.
There is a demand here to listen to the voice, not just the sequence of words and sentences, if there is really any hope to comprehend what we read in this text. It is an ensemble from which another layer emerges and binds them into a greater truth, a higher meaning, the place or society we really want to be. To get there it is not really necessary to have all of the commands, all of the statutes, all of the ordinances and all of the ways. When we “listen to His voice” and use our heart and soul as tools to guide us when can better understand that binding layer. It is that layer that will lead us to this exemplary society which we yearn for.
Sadly not everyone who can recite the commands, the statutes, the ordinances and the ways can also “listen to His voice”. One such person is the man appointed to be the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, that just the idea of adding the title rabbi to his name can send shivers down your spine. According to the Haredi website “Kikar HaShabbat” Amar said, “I became aware that there was a trial regarding the Western Wall, the demand of the ‘damned evil persons’ that do every injustice in the world against the Torah… they have no Kippur and no Shabbat but they want to pray… and no one should even think that they want to pray, they want to disgrace the holy… they are trying to spread the illusion that it is ‘something that extreme Haredi came up with’. This is like Holocaust deniers, it is exactly the same.” To say the least it is troubling that this particular voice is heard rather than His voice that ought to be heard. Nevertheless, we are in the month of Elul, a month of hope and requests for forgiveness, a month where we should hope that the voice that ought to be heard and echoes will be actually adhered to. Otherwise, all the commands, the statutes, the ordinances and the ways will once again lead to a deadend.
Reuven Marko, 18 Elul 5777, 8 September 2017