On Rebuke, Consolation and Rabbinic Commitment

Thoughts on Parashat “Ki Tavo”

by Rabbi Dana Sharon

“Ki Tavo” portion is also known as “The great rebuke portion”, because it contains a long and drawn-out description of blessings and curses that will come upon the people of Israel, according to their actions. When I look up from the books and look at what is going on around me, it is easy for me, too easy for me, to fulfill the mitzvah of rebuke…

These days are the days of the month of Elul, on my desk the machzor for the Tishrei holidays is already open in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and beyond, Yom Kippur, and this passage brings up before me the text of Rabbi Mordechai Rotem’s confession:

“We closed our ears to the cry of the poor and wretched.

We disdained people of honesty and integrity […]

We set our sights on “only by might and only by power” […]

We were afraid to proclaim the truth out loud.”

Reading this text within the contemporary Israeli reality fills the heart with terror and the eyes with tears. Indeed, it seems that the situation in Israel and in the world, in terms of human rights, concern for others, our relationship with the cosmos, is at a low point, which seems to have no end and no bottom. The governmental coup, the terrible injuries to Palestinian communities that are taking place under the hands of the malicious government, and the complete disregard of governments, corporations and companies for the climate disaster that is escalating, are only the most significant of them from the perspective in which we operate. Greed, lust for revenge, and blindness to universal human suffering seem to consume every good part and destroy the intricate and delicate infrastructure of our existence here.

But Ki Tavo portion does not offer us only rebuke. In the Jewish calendar, the days are also the days of “Seven of Consolation”, the seven haftaras of consolation between Tisha B’av and Rosh Hashanah. In her interpretation of Ki Tavo portion in the book “Dabri Torah: Israeli Women Interpret the Torah”, Rabbi Prof. Dalia Marx offers the following idea: “In this chapter, a double alienation is embodied – the Israelites who wander in the desert without permanent land are required to imagine themselves as farmers who sit securely on their land, and at the same time the farmers who sit on their land are required to remember the days of their wanderings in the desert, and necessarily also to reflect on the fragility of their own lives.” This idea is dear to my heart because it has another level, which exceeds the commandment to love the stranger because we were strangers. Through very refined literary means, the portion reminds us that the only constant in the human condition is its constant change, and that we have responsibility to develop peripheral vision, to reduce our blind spots, towards those who are not right in front of our eyes and who share the same physical or imagined space with us.

Michael Menkin wrote on his Facebook page about an experience he had while accompanying shepherds in Deir Istiya: “….I thought about this in Elul, the Chabadniks say that the king is in the field, meaning that God is really present in our reality ahead of the terrible days and therefore it is easier to approach him. We were in the field, with our Palestinian hosts who are talking to their king who is also ours. At first thought, I got upset about how when they steal part of the field from you, they also steal part of your ability to talk to God. Even when the king is there, you are not allowed to be there. But then I also thought in a different way. When we pray in the space of our struggles and as part of our struggles, we remind ourselves what freedom is and what justice is. That is, we turn the activity in the field into our field and bring the king into it.”

I would like, in the midst of this difficult, hot and bloody month of Elul, nevertheless, to demand that we do everything:

Not to close our ears to the cry of the poor, to seek the straightness of the road and the cleanliness of the hands, to demand solutions that are not by force and power, to shout painful truths. To remember that we were strangers, and to remember our duty, as part of the majority group, and as religious and spiritual leaders, towards the minority groups around us, towards our people, and to learn the beautiful and complex lessons that the Torah offers us in these contexts. But the thought does not free us from action – from going out into the field, from protecting with our bodies those who need it, from accompanying the shepherds, from picking the olives, planting in the vineyards that were destroyed by those who claim ownership of a God who is also ours, from standing beside the monks of Stella Maris who are under attack.

And I will finish with a word from the haftara to “Ki Tavo” portion, the book of Isaiah: “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but upon thee the LORD will arise, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.” (Isaiah 60, 2)

The LORD will give strength unto His people; the LORD will bless his people – and his world – with peace.”


Rabbi Dana Sharon is currently taking up her position as the Head of Rabbinic Network of Rabbis for Human Rights, and teaches in “A Year In Israel” program and in the Israeli program at Hebrew Union College. After being ordained as a Reform Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College, she served as the community Rabbi of the “Yuval” congregation in Gedera for two years. Before that, she managed the social media of the the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) for six years. She is a board member of the Women of the Wall organization and was previously the chairwoman of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from the Hebrew University, and a master’s degree in contemporary Judaism from the Schechter Institute. She lives in Kibbutz Nachshon with her husband Shai, the twins Ziv and Aya, and a long-suffering cat.

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