Exile on Main Street: Ki Tavo 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Chatter: To what extent do your family and friends live close-by to you? To what extent are they in other cities or countries? How do we overcome the challenges of maintaining connections with the people we care about in spite of physical distance?

In this week’s Torah portion, God threatens the Israelites with dozens of curses should they disobey the commandments. As the list of curses reaches its climax, God raises the possibility of the Chosen People being spread out around the world.

The Pitch: “Adonai will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced. Yet even among these nations you shall find no peace, nor shall your foot find a place to rest. Adonai will give you there an anguished heart and eyes that pine and despondent spirit. The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.” (Deuteronomy 28:64-66)

Swing #1: “As a result of their desperate situation in the lands of their dispersion, hounded by unspeakable persecution, many of them would succumb, against their will, to the demands of their persecutors and embrace alien faiths and idolatrous worship, in which they did not really believe. Knowing them to be of wood and stone that could neither see nor hear, they would worship them only in order to escape death. The idolatry referred to here is thus not in the sense of sin, but rather as part of the punishment inflicted on them, that they would be brought to such a state of being forced against their will to serve idols, although inwardly believing in God.” – Abarbanel

Swing #2: “Such a condition of existential doubt is described in Deuteronomy (28:66) as the very nadir of the cursed human condition: ‘The life you face shall be precarious [literally, suspended in front of you]; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.’ In this state, one loses faith in the life thrust, Bergson’s élan vital. Rashi comments on this suspension of life: ‘The text speaks of doubt. Everywhere, doubt is called the condition of suspense, whether one will die today.’ The knowledge of one’s contingency, the vertigo of being, is expressed in the instability, the dizzying symmetry of equivalent possibilities.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis

Swing #3: “Our Sages explain that the rewards for a Jew’s service are given ‘measure for measure.’ In order to merit the revelation, we must carry out a service of a similar nature. This is the purpose of exile. Our people have wandered from land to land, carrying out a unique Godly mission. By fulfilling Torah and mitzvot in the countries in which we have been dispersed, we express our belief that ‘God is One and His Torah is one.’ We demonstrate that every aspect of the world can reveal this Oneness.” – Meam Loez

Late-Inning Questions: Does the threat of physical distance sound as harrowing today as it must have in years past? As modern technology makes our world smaller in some ways, can we be less reluctant to live away from the most important people in our lives? Or is there no replacing physical proximity?

On Deck at Emanu-El: In order to prepare our hearts for the High Holy Day season, it is traditional to meet the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashanah. Please join us Saturday, September 24th at 8:00PM for Havdallah and Dessert, followed by, “DATELINE: Be’er Sheva”: An exclusive interview with the participants of the Akeidah (the Binding of Isaac). A brief Selihot service follows the program.

The Big Inning at the End: With about a week and a half to go in the regular season, it is theoretically possible that six American League teams will be tied for the league’s two Wild Card spots. Personally, I’m rooting for it. The wilder the Wild Card gets, the better.

Shabbat Shalom!