OzTorah: Torah reading – Ki Tavo



Bringing first fruits to the Sanctuary, an Israelite made a declaration that said,

“My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5).

Ignaz Maybaum, an Anglo-Jewish philosopher who came from the great pre-War community of Germany, regarded this verse as theology, not just history.

If it were only history it would set the scene for the migrations of the Israelite tribes from Canaan to Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. But to Maybaum it was theology. It indicated that Judaism was never limited to the Land of Israel, great and holy though the Land is. Judaism was wherever the wandering ancestor found himself.

Judaism still is wherever Jews live a Jewish life. Maybaum quotes a story.

Once, at a Royal Commission, Chaim Weizmann was asked:

‘Whence to do derive your right to demand Palestine for the Jewish People?’

His answer was: ‘The Bible is our Charter’”. Maybaum comments,

“This answer, appropriate in the hour when Weizmann gave it, could cause the Bible to cease to be the Jewish Book for the whole of mankind, and let it degenerate into a charter given only to one political group”.

Many of us would tone down Maybaum’s criticism because to us Israel is so crucial and central to Jewish identity and faith, but we cannot entirely repudiate his words. Jews can be Jewish anywhere in the world and millions are, whilst some are almost non-Jewish even in Israel. The ideal is the words of the Book of Exodus:

“In every place where My name is invoked I will come to you and bless you” (Ex. 20:24).



The “Al Chet” confession on Yom Kippur ends with us asking God to forgive us for the sin of “timhon levav”, “confusion of heart”. Unfortunately we are left on our own when it comes to the meaning of the phrase.

Eventually we find that it comes straight out of this week’s Torah portion, much of which is a “tochechah”, a set of rebukes that carry a severe list of punishments. One of the worst punishments comes in a sentence which reads,

“God will afflict you with madness, blindness and ‘timhon levav’, confusion of heart” (Deut.28:28).

The translators are not all of one mind about the meaning of the phrase. The renderings include “astonishment of the heart”, “dismay”, and “confusion of the mind”.

Let’s see if the context helps us. We are talking about ways in which God can punish us. Ibn Ezra notes that all three punishments in the verse are mental – “balev”, which though it literally means “in the heart”, denotes “in the mind” in Biblical linguistics. The verse mentions madness, a mental condition in which one’s thinking and decision-making are not reliable. It mentions blindness, which must be meant metaphorically, in the sense of not seeing, perceiving, or grasping a situation. Then it mentions “timhon levav”, which could indicate being uncertain, perplexed, pulled in many directions at once.



The haftarah begins with the call,

“Kumi ori, ki va orech”, “Arise, shine, for your light is come” (Isa. 60:1).

Colloquial English has borrowed these words to produce the morning call,

“Rise and shine!”

The haftarah is one of a series of seven haftarot of consolation selected from Isaiah, which are read week by week between Tishah B’Av and Rosh HaShanah. There is an interpretation of Abravanel that the opening verses of the seven haftarot tell a connected story. The people have suffered greatly, but God tells the prophets,

“Nachamu nachamu ammi” – “Comfort, comfort My people (Isa. 40:1 – the commencement of the haftarah for the Shabbat after Tishah B’Av).

However, the people are hurting so much that they are not prepared to be comforted (Isa 49:14, 44:11) until God Himself steps in and personally assures them that He understands their agony and wants them to be comforted (Isa. 51:12). The story continues with the people still being reluctant to accept even Divine assurances. Finally they agree to be comforted (Isa. 54:1) – surely a parable of the Jewish people after the Holocaust.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Blog: http://www.oztorah.com

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