D’var Torah for Ki Tavo – practices for entering a new phase of life

This is the d’var Torah I offered yesterday at CBI for parashat Ki Tavo, last week’s Torah portion. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


When you enter into the land, Torah tells us, be conscious of where you are and what you’re doing. Bring the fruits of your labors as a gift to God. And then say, out loud, a passage which many of us may recognize from the Pesach haggadah, one which begins “My father was a wandering Aramean…

What a fascinating instruction this is to find at the beginning of parashat Ki Tavo.

The most obvious reading of this passage is that it describes practices the ancient Israelites followed when entering into the Promised Land and making sacrifices there to God. Yes: that’s one way of reading it. Absolutely.

But I’d like to suggest a second reading. This text can also offer us instructions for how to act, what to do and say, when we cross a boundary in our own lives from one phase to another.

What happens if we read this as a text about crossing the spiritual boundary between one part of our lives and the next?

When you enter into this new part of your life, and possess it and settle in it — when you stop looking back to the past or anticipating the future, when you make the conscious choice to be in this moment, when you enter wholly into the here and now.

You shall take some of the first fruit of the soil which you harvest — take your hard work, your spiritual gleanings, the new insights and creativity which you have tended and raised up like seedlings from the ground.

And go to the place where Adonai your God will choose to establish the divine Name — bring your presence in this moment, and your spiritual gleanings, into connection with something beyond yourself.

Go to the priest in charge and say to him, “I acknowledge this day before God that I have entered the land” — go to someone you admire and trust, someone who facilitates your sense of connection with God and tradition, and affirm aloud for that person that you are here, in this moment, without regrets or anticipation.

You shall then recite “My father was a wandering Aramean” — speak, aloud, the truth of where you come from and how you got here. Remember your ancestors, both genealogical and spiritual, and what they went through. Remember being in a place of constriction and misery. Remember what it feels like to trust that God will lift you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Connect the bounty you are experiencing now with that same God Who brings you out of the house of bondage and into covenant and freedom.

Then you shall enjoy, together with the family of the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that Adonai has bestowed upon you and your house — only then, once you have made yourself present in this moment, and harvested your insights and wisdom, and placed yourself in relationship with someone who helps you connect with God, and thanked God for the new stage of your life which you are beginning in this moment, and remembered where you came from, and thanked God for the blessings in your life — then you will have the abundance and expansiveness to celebrate along with the stranger in your midst, the outsider who is perennially marginalized but whom you welcome into your celebration.

What would it feel like for us to do what Ki Tavo commands? We can’t experience the entry into the Promised Land as Torah tells us our ancestors did — but we can experience this entry into the promised land of the heart and the spirit in every moment if only we are willing to do the work and open ourselves up.

And what better time to do this work than during Elul, as we make ourselves present and remember where we come from and thank God for our blessings in preparation for the Days of Awe?

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