Rule of Law: Ki Tavo 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever felt that the “rules of the game” changed after you had started playing? If so, did you choose to leave the game, or to stick it out?

A special ceremony described near the end of Deuteronomy is meant to clarify that God’s commandments are unambiguous – just in case the Israelites might have thought otherwise:

The Pitch: “Cursed be he who will not uphold the terms of this Teaching and observe them. And all the people shall say, Amen.” – Deuteronomy 27:26

Swing #1: “No specific punishment is detailed. ‘Cursed’ is more than enough, for it means that the violator is completely undone, condemned in his or her own community.” – Douglas A. Knight & Amy-Jill Levine, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us

Swing #2: “Israel was elected by Jahweh before she was given the commandments. As a result of this election she became Jahweh’s chosen people, and this, in fact, happened before she had had any opportunity of proving her obedience.” – Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Volume II

Swing #3: “This includes all the commandments in the Torah [and not just those mentioned at this ceremony. … The Israelite] must be convinced in his heart that all the commandments are worthwhile observing seeing they are all full of meaning to people engaged in studying them.” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Late-Inning Questions: To what extent might an Israelite feel coerced into following God’s commandments? Or, after 40 years in the wilderness, does the new generation of Israelites understand that following God’s commandments is a far better plight than Egyptian slavery? Are the rules of the Torah laid out in a clear fashion? To what extent does a successful society need understandable rules?

On-Deck at TBT: Please join several congregations tomorrow, Saturday, August 28th, for our community Selihot service at TBT. Havdalah and teachings take place at 9:00 p.m., with Selihot services at 10:00 p.m. Please note that masks and proof of vaccination (for those who are vaccine-eligible) are required.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of rules that might change on a whim, I’ve always wondered why the original ruling of the 1983 “Pine Tar Game” was reversed. George Brett clearly used more pine tar on his bat than what was allowed in the rules, and it was right to call him out. Why was this so controversial? I guess I would’ve had to be there …

Shabbat Shalom!