This week’s parasha is titled Kee Tavo, which means “When you come in,” Deuteronomy 26:1-29:9. This parasha covers regulations regarding tithing once the Jewish people enter the Promised Land, as well as blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.
Chapter 26 covers tithing. Each year, the people were required to set aside some of the first of their crop as a tithe. This was based on 3 year cycle that was to be repeated. During the first two years, this tithe was to be given at the place where God would establish his name, referring to the centralized worship which would eventually be established at the Temple, in Jerusalem. Every 3rd year, however, this tithe was to be given, “to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.” (verse 12) So, there were two years of tithing on a national level and one year of tithing locally.
Chapters 27 and 28 contain the curses, pronounced from atop Mount Ebal, the blessings pronounced from on Mount Gerizim and the consequences for disobedience. The tribes were separated, 6 tribes on Mount Ebal, the mountain from which curses were pronounced and Mount Gerizim, from where the blessings were pronounced. The tribes that stood on Mount Ebal to pronounce the curses were Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali. The tribes that stood on Mount Gerizim to pronounce the blessings were Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin.
Chapter 27 contains the curses pronounced from Mount Ebal. These curses cover the making of idols, dishonoring parents, and also several sins of a sexual nature. However, there are also curses for misleading people, and generally not following God’s laws. There have been several who have mentioned that many of these sins can be done in private, without anyone knowing, but the implication is that God sees all and there will be consequences for even those types of actions.
Chapter 28 contains the blessings for following God’s instructions. Blessings for individuals, blessing for offspring, blessings for abundant harvest, protection against enemies and other blessings. After the curses and blessings were pronounced, the rest of this chapter discusses the consequences of being disobedient. This is actually the main section of Parasha Kee Tavo, taking up almost half of the passage. Without going into extensive detail, which would be totally depressing for all of us on this beautiful Saturday, this section is like a ring that starts out with individual consequences for disobedience and then keeps expanding outward, eventually ending up as a national calamity and finally the nation of Israel being forced into the service of a foreign nation.
So, what can we learn from Parasha Kee Tavo?
From the section on tithing, I think we can learn to look beyond our own needs and look to the needs of others. In chapter 26, we read about helping the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow. There are plenty of people out there today who could use our help, financially, through prayer and in other ways.
We can also learn that there are consequences for disobedience. This world is beckoning us, no, not beckoning, but screaming at us to turn away from God. Everywhere we turn there are temptations luring us to not only waste time, but destroy us. For example, on-line pornography, which is so easy to access is very likely destroying family relationships on a daily basis. There are consequences for disobedience.
And, finally, the topic of joy. It might seem strange that I mention joy in a passage dominated by curses, but God wants us to follow Him joyfully. He does not want us to feel like this is some kind of drudgery that we have to slog through every day. And, perhaps this is what are seeing today in Judaism, Catholicism, Islam and other religions, especially among the very religiously observant. The structure of worship has become so wrought with rules and regulations about food, times for prayer and almost every other aspect of life. People are so caught up in observing these requirements that they have forgotten the joy of worship. We have even seen some examples here at Shema. People have called the Shema phone and said they want to worship with us because we follow the true Saturday Sabbath. People have said they are starting to keep kosher because that is the true way to follow God. These measures, when applied with the wrong motivation can separate us from God, not bring us closer.
So, I think as we begin the High Holiday season in a little over a week, we should each look into our own hearts and ask ourselves about how we are worshipping the living God and discern our true motivation. If we have strayed in this area, let’s ask the Lord to guide us back to living our lives with joy for Him. In Philippians, chapter 4, Paul reminds us: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.