Walk Back Like an Egyptian: Ki Tavo 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Does your life contain a lot of irony? How do you react when you encounter irony? Do you tend to think there are deeper meanings behind ironic moments, or do they seem more like coincidences to you?

In the voluminous list of curses laid out in our portion this week, the Israelites are told that if they don’t follow the commandments, among other things, they will need to go back from where they came:

The Pitch: “The LORD will send you back to Egypt in galleys, by a route which I told you you should not see again. There you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but none will buy.” – Deuteronomy 28:68

Swing #1: “Not even good enough for slavery! One stands in awe at the dark brilliance of this conclusion. … Deuteronomy 28, a warning to Israel, is also a terrifying revelation of the character of the Lord, Israel’s God. In the savagery of its detail, this vision greatly exceeds the flood. Is the Lord God capable of this? Indeed he is.” – Jack Miles, God: A Biography

Swing #2: “The reference to ships is not entirely clear. Perhaps, since all this constitutes a reversal of the narrative of national liberation in Exodus, the idea of an arduous trek on foot up out of Egypt is contrasted by the notion here of a rapid voyage by sea along the Mediterranean coast back to Egypt.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary

Swing #3: “You [the Israelites] will begin to manufacture or make by hand all kinds of goods the host country lacks in order to secure your economic well being, but no one will buy these goods due to antisemitic reasons, as they do not want you to gain a foothold in their country.” – Sforno

Late-Inning Questions: Does the notion of being sent back to Egypt as slaves that no one wants seem like the ultimate punishment for an unfaithful Israelite nation? Do you read this threat as an example of God’s ability to be cruel, or do you see this as an exaggeration? Do you believe that what goes around comes around? If you do, is this text an example of justice or of something more harmful?

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of irony, baseball history is filled with it, but a nice example took place this week when Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski threw out the first pitch before a Red Sox game at Fenway Park to his grandson Mike, who had recently reached the Majors himself … as a member of the opposing team.

Shabbat Shalom!