Declaration of Dependence: Ki Tavo 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you best express yourself? Are you best at writing, speaking to someone over the phone, speaking to someone in person, or making a public speech? Or, perhaps, are you best at non-verbal communication?

Even though the book of Deuteronomy is mainly one-sided — almost entirely consisting of Moses speaking to the Israelites — our portion this week refers to one occasion when we hear from the Israelites:

The Pitch: “You have affirmed this day that the LORD is your God, that you will walk in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that you will obey Him.” – Deuteronomy 26:17

Swing #1: “The Hebrew term he’emarta, ‘you have declared’, is in the causative inflection of the verb ‘to say,’ implying that ‘by reason of the good deeds you have performed, you cause the Lord to say that He will be your God.’” – Abraham ibn Ezra

Swing #2: “The recollection of the moment in which Israel affirmed that YHWH would be her God remains as a sign of the freedom in which she chooses to serve him. The re-presentation of that moment of choice keeps alive the element of human autonomy in the dialectic of divine suzerainty. This is the element that distinguishes covenantal theonomy from theocratic tyranny.” – Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence

Swing #3: “In Exodus 6, God establishes a relationship with a people already in existence. Therefore, He can legitimately say, ‘You are my people.’ However, in the time of Abraham, there is as yet no people, so in Genesis 17 when the Lord makes a covenant with Abraham, He simply says of Abraham’s children, ‘I will be their God’ (Genesis 17:8). … However, even though both sides are represented, all the initiative is God’s. After a period of maturation, the formula [in Deuteronomy] becomes two-sided.” – Yochanan Muffs, Love & Joy: Law, Language and Religion in Ancient Israel

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the Israelites’ declaration of fidelity to God? To what extent is this declaration made out of free will? How do we best declare our commitment to our  most cherished ideals?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Typically, Selichot is a service done late Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. It helps us prepare for the upcoming High Holidays by exploring themes of faith and repentance. As we did last year, we will incorporate a brief form of the Selichot service at a Sunday morning minyan. Please join us at 9:00AM on Sunday, September 2nd.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of public expression, some of the most creative encounters between a baseball player and the press took place throughout the 1990 season, when Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Don Carman posted a list of 37 cliches on his locker, which he used to answer reporters’ questions. Among them: “I’d rather be lucky than good,” “That’s the name of the game,” “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” and “I know you are but what am I?”

Shabbat Shalom!