Parshat Ki Tavo
Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman
There is a striking scene imagined in Parashat Ki Tavo (Deut. 27:11-26): Upon crossing the Jordan, the twelve tribes of Israel will divide into two groups. Six tribes will stand on a southern mountain facing the other six tribes on a northern mountain. The Levites will then scream a catalogue of twelve sins, each beginning with the phrase "Cursed be the one." After each articulated sin, the other eleven tribes call out: "Amen!"
The tribes answer the curses in unison--what is the power of the word "Amen"?
"Amen" comes from the root "firm." To say amen is to make something more solid, literally, to "affirm" it. Saying amen creates a communal reality by strengthening shared commitments. Judaism normally has us say amen to blessings. We are used to calling out amen for things that we believe or wish to be true. We say amen happily, with great hope, at the blessings offered at weddings, baby namings, and holidays. In Jewish law, answering "amen" after a blessing is considered more praiseworthy than saying the blessing oneself (Shevuot 29b).
Blessing & Promise
And what does it mean to say amen to a curse? By affirming each sin, the eleven answering tribes, individual by individual, voice a commitment to being a holy nation. They affirm their commitment to a shared standard of justice--each prohibited act represents a communal value.
More curses come later in Ki Tavo, and they are graphic: women eating their own children, Israelites returning to Egypt, epidemics, and exile. Perhaps the most severe comes close to the end: "v'lo ta'amin b'hayekha--and you will not believe in your own life (Deut. 28:66)." The parashah seems to say that to deny that our lives have meaning, to not believe in the power of our own lives, is the worst outcome of sin.
If curses represent powerlessness and meaninglessness here, blessings do the opposite: they illuminate possibility and power. By offering a vision of promise, they inspire us to believe in our lives.
Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, a rabbi and human rights activist, formulated a series of prayers for this season of the Jewish year almost a decade ago. We can imagine these as counter-blessings to the curses on the mountain; a communal call to the meaning of our lives and our ability to effect change, even in our own religious tradition:
Grant us the wisdom to create new paradigms that will carry our tradition forward into the new world. Amen!
Give us the courage to extirpate from our history those ideas and values which are inimical to the sanctity of life of other peoples, creeds, and races. Amen!
Grant us the compassion to empathize with the forgotten, the mourners, the disenfranchised, the sick, the homeless, the anxiety-ridden, the disabled, the unloved and uncared for individuals about us, the masses of humanity that grapple with desperation and hopelessness. Amen!
Enlighten our minds so that we may compose new prayers to stir our tired hearts, to awaken new tears in dry eyes, to move our all too comfortable consciences, and thus may we be moved to inscribe our own letters, perhaps even a word or two, in the eternal Book of Life. Amen!
Say It Out Loud.
There is a reason that the ceremony of curses and amens on the mountains of Israel was required to be said loudly. Our ancestors needed to hear one another's affirmations of responsibility. Don't we? In our communities this week, let us hear the curses on the mountains as an affirmation of our shared communal values. Let us also articulate new blessings to challenge the curses, affirming our power to create change.
And let our words bring us to act. Together, when we seek justice, when we volunteer, when we donate, when we engage in advocacy, we add our contemporary amens to the chorus on the mountain, to the ancient Jewish commitment to justice.
Amen, amen, and may it be so.
Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman is the Rabbi Martin Ballonoff Memorial Rabbi-in-Residence at Berkeley Hillel.
Shabbat Services: Ki Tavo
Friday, August 23rd
6 p.m. Services, Chapel
Saturday, August 24th
9 a.m. Services, Sanctuary
Kiddush Lunch is sponsored by Sharon and Leonard Rosen in honor of the second anniversary of Jillian and David and in honor of Lenny completing Mishnah Yomi.
Kiddush Lunch is available through the generosity of weekly sponsors. Please e-mail or call the synagogue office if you would like to sponsor a kiddush lunch. You may also make a donation to the synagogue specifically for the Kiddush Lunch Fund by clicking here.
To Sue and Sandy Birnholtz on the birth of their new grandson, Elie Zvi Hildebrandt, son of Melanie and Matt Hildebrandt and baby brother of Samara.
Community Wide Selichot Service
Saturday Evening, August 31st
"Understanding Loss at the Days of Awe."
Guest speaker: Rabbi Daniel Greyber
9 p.m. Light Refreshments
9:30 p.m. Program
10:30 p.m. Selichot Service led by Hazzan Dan Gross, Marty Liebman and the Adat Shalom Choir.
Sponsored by The Michigan Region of the Rabbinical Assembly, Adat Shalom Synagogue, Congregation Beth Ahm, Congregation Beth Shalom, B'nai Israel Synagogue, Congregation B'nai Moshe, Congregation Shaarey Zedek and Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.
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Upcoming Youth and Family Activities
Supervised Youth Activities, Room 3, lower level
Parent volunteers staff the youth room during the summer months.
To stay current on all youth and family activities, contact Ilana Glazier to join the B'nai Israel Families Facebook Group.
New and returning education opportunities will begin in October. Watch your bulletins and e-mails for details.
Upcoming Community Events
and TKA/BI Joint Opportunities
Community Wide Selichot Service
Saturday, August 31st, Adat Shalom Synagogue
All stitchers are welcome.
needlepoint, crochet hook or cross stitch and join the group. There is no charge to attend.
7 PM at the TKA/BI building.
FUTURE DATES: e-mail Gail Raben.
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Refuah Sh'leimah/Wishing a Speedy Recovery
if you wish to add a name to our communal list.
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22 Maya Rosenberg
23 Vernon Gordon
25 Rabbi Jonathan Berger
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27 Cary Rosen
27 Melvin Toby
29 Edward Chudnow
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30 Roy & Robin Rosen
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May Their Memories Be For a Blessing
8/23/2013 (17 Elul)
8/24/2013 (18 Elul)
8/27/2013 (21 Elul)
8/30/2013 (24 Elul)
8/31/2013 (25 Elul)
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B'nai Israel Synagogue is affiliated with USCJ,
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