תקנו את הכלים וכן משחקים – fixing the vessels – parashat ki tavo

Shavru et hakelim velo mesachakim” – שברו את הכלים ולא משחקים – (they) broke the vessels and there’s no (more) playing” – is a famous, common line Israelis use. It comes up in kids’ games but it’s can generally mean “I’m done playing with you” or “not dealing with you anymore”. I’ve translated it very literally and purposefully so, because suddenly I realized that I have no idea what I’ve been saying for… well, quite a few decades.
I tried to look up what are the origins of this phrase. Most everyone quotes a children song; one person writes that “kelim” (vessels) means “klalim” (rules). Well, maybe. But reading this parasha, it dawned on me that there can be much more to this. Please bear with me for a moment and we’ll try to come full circle.
Parashat Ki Tavo is hard to read. It starts nicely with a detailed account of how we bring the first fruits, or bikurim, which is included, still, every year, in the Passover Haggada. Then it shifts to “the Blessings and the Curses” better translated as “consequences”, the latter overpowering the whole reading with the harsh, horrible description of what will happen if…
Is there a connection between the first fruit, the blessings & curses, and that kids’ saying?
Let’s start by trying to understand the process around bringing the first fruit to the priests in the Temple. It’s hard to compare it to anything nowadays because we live in such a “fast-food”, “fastrack”, even “peace now” – ‘everything must be immediately if not sooner’ society (‘what! It’s been 20 min and no answer to my text’?!). But in order to bring the first fruit, you couldn’t just get up in the morning and go; you couldn’t even start a week ahead of time. You had to start the moment you noticed the first fig ripening on your tree, when you would mark it with a special ribbon. You then had to guard it throughout the season, making sure it keeps growing nicely, then pick it, wrap it safely, put it in the basket and travel all the way – with everything that can happen along the journey – to Jerusalem, then say: this is it!! This is the fruit of my partnership with the amazing, endless, wonderful gifts G-d gave me and family.
At any moment, this process might be disturbed. If you really want to be there, at the Temple, in front of the priest, with your basket, you need to work at it throughout the whole year, and even before: prepare your soil, plant your tree, grow it, care for it; care for your animals, feed them, take them out, clean after them; sow your field; harvest your grain. It’s a lot of work, and by the time it’s done, it would be so easy to think we did it all! Drum roll please!! It’s me! Me! by myself!
But the Torah, davka then, wants us to acquire a different attitude; to not be haughty about me, me, me and to also not be depressed as if I’m a worthless nothing. But rather, that we should know that we are not in this alone; that we are partners; that we use the bounty that is given to us and together, make these beautiful creations.
This is where (a moment of) Kabala comes in. Kabala says that there is bounty coming to the world all the time, just good stuff pouring down from the heavens, but without a “something” on earth to catch it, it just flows on. We need a vessel to collect it, like a reservoir for rain. And in a sense, we are that reservoir; we are that vessel.
When our vessel is broken – for any reason – we can’t “play”, we can’t participate in this partnership, because we cannot bring the bounty. We can only bring the vessel.
And our “vessel” needs prep. We want to just jump out of bed one day and be “ready”, but it’s not possible, no more then it’s possible to jump out of bed with the fig or sheep and run to the Temple, unless we did all the necessary prep long before hand.
It is customary to read Ki Tavo before Rosh Hashana, during this month of Elul which is intended for reflection because Ki Tavo can help us think back about where we’ve done well, where we’ve erred, and how to proceed in our partnership on earth, with others and with G-d. Blessings and curses don’t just happen randomly. They are about us, and, hard as it is, we can work at them every day to maximize our chances.
And then, the Torah tells us – then you will be happy. Is that a mitzvah or a simple statement of facts? Maybe it’s an expression of how we feel in those moments when we just “are”, what some call “flow”, moving about knowing what is our place what’s our role as partners in this creation.
Shabbat Shalom.

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This entry was posted in life and some, shabbat shalom, פרשת השבוע לחילוני האדוק. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to תקנו את הכלים וכן משחקים – fixing the vessels – parashat ki tavo

  1. janis lightman says:

    Michal, excellent as always. thank you so much. You’re always such an inspiration. (you can quote that on your blog), early L’shana tova u’metukah, janis

    ________________________________

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