Shabbat Ki-Tavo 5779

Near the end of this week’s reading, Parshat Ki-Tavo, after the ceremony of announcing the choice between rich reward and frightening punishment, Moshe tells the Israelites that it is as if they have no sense of their own history. He says: “The LORD did not give your heart the ability to know, eyes to see and ears to hear until this very day” (Deuteronomy 29:3). What was it about “this very day” that led him to perceive a change in the Israelite mindset?
Rashi, the 11th-century commentator whose interpretaions are so central to our tradition, has a fascinating observation on this passage. “I have heard that when Moshe gave the Book of the Law to the sons of Levi [as is written soon after, in 31:9], all Israel came before Moshe and said: ‘Moshe our Teacher–we, too, stood at Sinai and accepted the Torah, and it was given to us. Why, then, do you give the people of your tribe control over it, that they may tomorrow say to us, ‘Not to you was it given, but to us?'”
In other words, the rest of the Israelites were suddenly motivated by jealousy–an emotion we don’t often celebrate. It is as if the Torah has been turned into a commodity that creates a dichotomy between haves and have-nots. What should be Moshe’s reaction to the Israelites’ claim?
As we approach Rosh Hashanah and immerse ourselves deeply in thoughts about self-improvement, it’s easy to slip into jealousy. Can jealousy ever be productive? We’ll talk about this on Shabbat morning.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise