Turning the past into a future: The Torah portion of Ki Tavo

One month in Israel, not even close to scraping the surface of this old-new seashell. There are moments that I’m not sure what I was thinking, and there are moment that I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to be back, not for any particular reason, just because the air feels right, the beach is glorious, especially at sunset when the water is still warmish and the sun softer and you can walk forever, and the cottage-cheese tastes like my childhood.

These Torah portions speak of going and coming, Ki Tetze and Ki Tavo: if you go out – for war… when you come – into the Land… perhaps implying that going out is always a struggle, even in best case scenario, while coming in is a return home.

This week’s parasha opens with the word Vehaya: haya means – was; the vav before, is known as vav hahipuch: it causes verb after to change times, turning it from “it was” into “and it will come to be when”…. This happens elsewhere, for example, shamru means they kept, in the past. When this vav is added, it turns into veshamru, and (they) will keep (the Children of Israel the Shabbat for their generations…). What a concept! That we can play with time! It is possible for us, says the Hebrew grammar, to turn the past into a future.

By contrast, the word yehi means – will be (so will be your will – וכן יהי רצון); vayehi though means “and it came to pass” in the past. Therefore, the sages understood the latter to be a sign of doom – a promise for a brighter future that holds a danger, reversal of hope (see Genesis 41:1: Vayehi miketz… Pharaoh wakes up from a dream after two extra years of Joseph in jail, which starts Joseph’s ascend but ultimately lands the Children of Israel in slavery in Egypt). But here, the word vahaya is a sign of blessing ahead. The ability to turn the past into a future is a sign a joy. This is how the description of coming to the Land of Israel opens. We have an opportunity to reverse the past. This was true in Torah times, and it is even more true, noticeable and easy to grasp – nowadays.

So ok. If the goal is to come to the Land and that’s the future and blessings, then great, let’s make the most of it. Life is not easy, you know; if we can get anything out of this rocky ground, let’s enjoy it. But then, the very first thing one must do is bring the first fruit to the Temple. Ouch! Finally, there is a little fig on my tree, and now I have to give it away?? how could that make sense? If we think we are the absolute owners, then it doesn’t, but if we remember that we are caretaker and work with the Owner then maybe it’s possible.

The next strange thing is that the Torah insists on when we come to priest “today”, we should say, that we’ve come to the Land… but what if someone has been here for seven generations, or even one? This too has to do with a feeling of not taking for granted. Being here should not be a result of historical coincidence – I’m here, so I’m here – but, rather, accompanied by a sense of choice. There is a constant feelings of renewal, excitement, mission, place and role, things to do. I admit, this is not always obvious to me when I wait in line at the bank or some office, again. But then I open my shutters and take a deep breath as I gaze at the view.

Shabbat Shalom.

וְהָיָה֙ כִּֽי־תָב֣וֹא אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֙ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ נַחֲלָ֑ה וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֖הּ וְיָשַׁ֥בְתָּ בָּֽהּ׃

When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it,

וְלָקַחְתָּ֞ מֵרֵאשִׁ֣ית ׀ כָּל־פְּרִ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר תָּבִ֧יא מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֛ אֲשֶׁ֨ר ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָ֖ךְ וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ בַטֶּ֑נֶא וְהָֽלַכְתָּ֙ אֶל־הַמָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָֽׁם׃

you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God will choose to establish His name.

וּבָאתָ֙ אֶל־הַכֹּהֵ֔ן אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִהְיֶ֖ה בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֑ם וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵלָ֗יו הִגַּ֤דְתִּי הַיּוֹם֙ לַה’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ כִּי־בָ֙אתִי֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֧ע ה’ לַאֲבֹתֵ֖ינוּ לָ֥תֶת לָֽנוּ׃

You shall go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, “I acknowledge this day before the LORD your God that I have entered the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to assign us.”

וְלָקַ֧ח הַכֹּהֵ֛ן הַטֶּ֖נֶא מִיָּדֶ֑ךָ וְהִ֨נִּיח֔וֹ לִפְנֵ֕י מִזְבַּ֖ח ה’ אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

The priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.

וְעָנִ֨יתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ לִפְנֵ֣י ׀ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י וַיֵּ֣רֶד מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וַיָּ֥גָר שָׁ֖ם בִּמְתֵ֣י מְעָ֑ט וַֽיְהִי־שָׁ֕ם לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל עָצ֥וּם וָרָֽב׃

You shall then recite as follows before the LORD your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation.

וַיָּרֵ֧עוּ אֹתָ֛נוּ הַמִּצְרִ֖ים וַיְעַנּ֑וּנוּ וַיִּתְּנ֥וּ עָלֵ֖ינוּ עֲבֹדָ֥ה קָשָֽׁה׃

The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us.

וַנִּצְעַ֕ק אֶל־ה’ אֱלֹהֵ֣י אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע ה’ אֶת־קֹלֵ֔נוּ וַיַּ֧רְא אֶת־עָנְיֵ֛נוּ וְאֶת־עֲמָלֵ֖נוּ וְאֶת־לַחֲצֵֽנוּ׃

We cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.

וַיּוֹצִאֵ֤נוּ ה’ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם בְּיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבְמֹרָ֖א גָּדֹ֑ל וּבְאֹת֖וֹת וּבְמֹפְתִֽים׃

The LORD freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents.

וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַיִּתֶּן־לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃

He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

וְעַתָּ֗ה הִנֵּ֤ה הֵבֵ֙אתִי֙ אֶת־רֵאשִׁית֙ פְּרִ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נָתַ֥תָּה לִּ֖י ה’ וְהִנַּחְתּ֗וֹ לִפְנֵי֙ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ וְהִֽשְׁתַּחֲוִ֔יתָ לִפְנֵ֖י ה’ אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O LORD, have given me.” You shall leave it before the LORD your God and bow low before the LORD your God.

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֣ בְכָל־הַטּ֗וֹב אֲשֶׁ֧ר נָֽתַן־לְךָ֛ ה’ אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּלְבֵיתֶ֑ךָ אַתָּה֙ וְהַלֵּוִ֔י וְהַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ׃ (ס)

And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the LORD your God has bestowed upon you and your household.

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