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'All the nations of the Earth shall see that the Name of G-d is proclaimed over you. They will revere you'. (28:10)
Moses communicates that promise to the Israelites, which will be upheld as long as they observe G-d's teaching. The Hebrew veyar-u mi-me-ka is typically translated as 'they shall fear you', in the same way as a person who is yir-at shamayim is rendered as 'G-d fearing'. However, the word yir-a is better rendered as revere, as reverence implies two things. Those who are on the 'right side' of G-d have arrived there through respecting G-d. Those who are on the 'wrong side' of G-d have reached that status through not respecting G-d's commandments - so indeed (as the long section on the Curses sets out) they have much to fear from G-d. So 'yir-a' - reverence - implies elements of both respect and fear, depending where the individual, and the community, lie on the spiritual spectrum.
However in the Israelites becoming 'this day a People to G-d' (27:9), Moses sets out the structure of Torah observance. Torah observance is taken as the norm - that is why Moses did not directly praise the Israelites for keeping the Mitzvot, but said they would be cursed for breaking them (27:15-26). However, these curses imply an upside-down pyramidal structure.
At its base is service entirely to G-d. That is spelt out in the opening curse, which goes on anyone who 'makes a graven and molten image…' - idolatry (c.f. Ex. 20:4). The entire pyramid of the Creation is built on G-d's rules. Take that away, and the absolute Torah experience falls down. The rules will remain human institutions, to be modified, changed, or jettisoned at will. That is covered in a single verse (27:15)
At the next level are the bricks which make up commandments between Man and his neighbor - human relationships. These imply the respect due to parents, property belong to others, justice for all, and protection for those in weaker positions and unable to defend themselves. They include four sexual offences whose victims are weaker parties who either cannot, or are unlikely to seek redress in the courts as their complaint would besmirch the family name. They are officially sanctioned norms in virtually all civilized societies today, but with an important difference. In the Israelite tradition, whatever constitutes decent behavior between people is such because such G-d has commanded it: indeed 'the Earth is built on kindness' (Psalms 89:3) - common decency is the vital ingredient for humanity to survive. Take that away and humanity will begin to disintegrate. The Torah does not regard common decency as a mere semantic humanistic value, but something that G-d built into his Creation. It is at the foundation of the Creation, the spiritual structure of humanity. These are covered in the main body of this section (27:16-25).
On the top level are the elements that make the Israelites different from all other nations, and bring them closer to G-d - the bulk of the 613 Mitzvot - exclusive to the Israelite Nation - Shabbat, Kashrut, Tefillen, Mezuza, and the compendium of others. Jews are Halachically bound to observe these teachings and practices. These are covered in toto the final verse of this section: 'Cursed is the person does not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them' (27:26).
That entire structure is what Moses promised would earn the Israelites reverence from other nations - the nation being on top of the upside-down pyramid. The tuning in with G-d as the Creator and Source of All Things and Values is at the base. The society built on trust and respect towards others is the next, wider, level. And the observance of huge structure of exclusively Israelite commandments lies on the top.
Remove respect between Man and Man and eventually the Israelites appear to others to be unworthy of respect because of hypocrisy. Keeping mitzvot in a society that is corrupt (c.f. Isaiah 58:3-9) undermines the value of those mitzvot, rotting their spiritual value. And following common decency without tuning in to G-d's Will takes away the authority of the sanctity to human relationships - in place of G-d's creating Man in His Image, there is a flaccid, relativist code of human relationships which generally do not stand up in situations impossible to uphold consistently by law and a police force - such as causing an injury to someone else in secret, which Rashi points out includes gossip.
That is the implied challenge to the Torah Nation - as the Torah is observed with the priorities focused, so the Israelites be respected by other nations and have nothing to fear from them.
(However -the above must be balanced with the principle that observance of mitzvot with inappropriate motives eventually leads to observance of mitzvot with appropriate motive - .c.f. Pesachim 50b
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
This D'var Torah on Parashat Ki Tavo is written in loving memory of my dearest Mother, Harabanit Devora Solomon ztl. who ascended to the Yeshiva Shel Ma'ala on Shabbat Ki Tavo nine years ago. May her memory be blessed, and be a source of blessings.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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