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The Responsibility of Influence

Parashat Ki Tavo is so named because of its open verse, which says, “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it …” (Deuteronomy 26:1). The words ki tavo mean “when you come.” Thus, this parashah is focused on the responsibility of the Children of Israel when they arrive in the land promised to them by Hashem. The first few paragraphs address bringing the bikkurim, the first fruits of the land to the LORD and the ceremony surrounding this procedure. After this Hashem gives Israel a reminder of their responsibility as a people who are consecrated to the LORD: 

This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice. (Deuteronomy 27:16–17)

Immediately following this, instructions are given to renew the covenant through a ritual which includes dividing up the tribes and set them onto two mountains: the Mount of Blessing (Mount Gerizim) and the Mount of Curses (Mount Ebal). The Levites are to command them from the valley between the two. The ones on Mount Gerizim are to bless the nation and the ones on Mount Ebal are to repeat a series of curses, to which all of the people will affirm, “Amen.” The specific curses that are to be recited are listed in verses 15-26. Two of these, however, are connected in a way that may not be obvious at first. Let’s look at these two curses and find the link between them:

“Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:18)

Restoring The Lost

Parashat Ki Tetze contains a plethora of laws ranging from managing the spoils of war to sexual immorality to fulfilling vows and oaths. Our focus will be on the responsibility of guarding a lost object. At the beginning of chapter 22 we read:

You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother's, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. (Deuteronomy 22:1–3)

At first this seems like a simple, straight-forward commandment of the Torah: If you find something that doesn’t belong to you, whether it is a living animal or an inanimate object, either find the owner and give it back or hold onto it until the owner comes looking for it. However, because this passage is brief without any details of how do deal with various possible scenarios, there are many implications, applications, and questions that are left unaddressed.

Signs And Wonders

In our day a large number of Yeshua’s followers find affinity with the charismatic movement, particularly among those in the Messianic movement. It seems the reasoning behind this attraction is that they are seeking to recapture the power demonstrated by Yeshua’s earliest followers. After all, Yeshua promised power to his disciples upon their receiving the Holy Spirit after his ascension. He told his disciples:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts 1:8)

This power was evident in the lives of the Apostles. For instance, in Acts 3, Peter and John are on their way into the Temple complex when they encounter a lame beggar and heal him with the spoken word. In Acts 5, Peter is healing so many people that “they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them” (5:15). In Acts 28, Paul heals a man who is suffering from fever and dysentery (28:8). It seems that everywhere they turned the Apostles were performing signs and wonders. 

Many people read passages like these and it awakens a desire within the human psyche to experience this spiritual power. We desire to replicate what we have only read about in our Bibles. The modern charismatic movement is an outgrowth of this desire. It constantly tries to show authenticity through signs, wonders, and prophecies of future events. But there is a strong caution that should accompany this pursuit. This week’s Torah portion speaks to the inherent danger of following after miracles and prophetic voices. It begins by establishing the condition that should capture our attention:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass … (Deuteronomy 13:2–3[1–2])

Parashat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

Ani Yosef—“I am Joseph.” You could have heard a pin drop when Joseph spoke those two Hebrew words to his brothers. Their mouths fell open and their jaws nearly hit the floor. Their eyes bulged as they strained to recognize their younger brother hidden beneath the Egyptian garb. Confusion and despair rushed over them from head to foot in an instant. An icy chill coursed through their veins at the sudden realization that the man who stood in front of them—the second most powerful man in Egypt—was the one they had betrayed over twenty years previously. The next few seconds played out as if they were in slow motion as they began processing those two words. Their minds rewound the moment and zoomed in on his lips as he spoke, “Ani Yosef!” “Did he really just say what we think we heard???” It probably seemed like an eternity as a million thoughts, fears, and regrets all collided in their minds simultaneously. Time stood frozen solid as the implications of this simple statement firmly landed on each of them.

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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