As we are now well into the month Elul, our thoughts turn to our own lives, and how we have fallen short. The parasha of Shoftim has been one we have turned to in lifting our expectations to do better, to be more just. And we have not always been just, either in our relations with our close ones or with strangers.
So HaShem in this week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, challenges us in the extreme, with the toughest of love. Beginning in Deuteronomy 28:58, HaShem pushes us to “observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching that are written in this book.” (my emphasis)
And if we fail? Diseases and plagues will wipe us out. “You will be a scant few, after having been as numerous as the stars in the skies, because you did not heed the command of the Lord our God.“ (28:62). What is more, we will be scattered “from one end of the earth to the other,” (28:64) and will serve other Gods, which, in the long term, will make us despondent and useless.
It is tempting to view all this as a sort of prophecy of all that would befall the Jewish people over time. Yet we know full well that it is next to impossible for even the most Orthodox Jews to observe all the commandments. And truly, as more liberal Jews, we give pause to those commandments that discriminate against gender and gay people.
So how are we to take on this harsh passage? If we acknowledge that we are responsible for everything we do, perhaps the portion can serve as a goad, to at least wrestle with, if not totally obey the commandments laid out for us. If we do this with sincerity and constancy, we serve both HaShem and the spirit of Elul.
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