D’Var Torah

This Shabbat morning we read Parashat Ki Tavo. The most beautiful scene in this Parshah takes place as the Torah describes the pilgrims who would flock to Jerusalem for the holidays in ancient Israel.

Farmers were instructed to offer the first fruit of their harvest or bikkurim as a gift to God and to pay a system a tithes each year that supported the priests, Levites and the poor. The purpose of this system was to demonstrate that it was a national responsibility to take care of the people who could not grow their own food. Farmers could not actually eat from their own produce until they had fulfilled their responsibilities to God and to other people.

The Torah records that upon completion of the necessary tithes, an Israelite would make a special declaration before God that he had met his responsibilities and asked for a blessing. “Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:15)

In rabbinic literature, this declaration by the farmer is known as the Vidui Maaser and was an important ritual in the Jerusalem temples for several centuries. We know the word Vidui very well from another context. In just a few weeks, we will be observing Yom Kippur. Several time over the course of the day we will beat our chests and declare, “Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu, We abuse, we betray, we are cruel.”The word vidui translates as “confession” and is usually used in connection with confession our sins and wrongdoings during the month of Elul and Ten Days of Repentance.

It is because of this common usage, that I found the use of the word of vidui so interesting in the way it is used by the farmer. Here is someone “confessing” the good things he has done. He supported the priests, he made sure that the orphan and the widow had what to eat and he followed all the ritual laws. He has what to be proud of and he stands up and says so.

The sentiment behind his statement is exact opposite of the vidui we recite where we list all the terrible things that we and our co-religionists have done. Jews like to joke that our faith and our mothers give us lots of guilt over our mistakes, but here were have an example of a ritual that helps someone celebrate their achievements.

As we prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the month of Elul, we are supposed to be involved in serious introspection as part of the teshuva (repentance) process, but introspection needs to have two parts. Yes we must castigate ourselves and vow to be better people in the new year, but we should also take the time to celebrate our achievements and the times when were the best versions of ourselves in the past year.


Candles should be lit for Shabbat on Fridays, September 23 at 7:19 p.m. and September 30 at 7:08 p.m.; for Rosh Hashanah on October 2 at 7:05 p.m. and October 3 after 8:01 p.m.; for Shabbat on October 7 at 6:58 p.m.; and for Yom Kippur on October 11 at 6:52 p.m.

Also, for Shabbat on October 14 at 6:48 p.m.; for Sukkot on October 16 at 6:45 p.m., October 17 7:41 p.m. and October 21 at 6:38 p.m.; for Shemini Atzeret on October 23 at 6:35 p.m.; for Simchat Torah on October 24 at 7:32 p.m.; and for Shabbat on October 28 at 6:29 p.m.


Editor’s note: Rabbi Michael Wolk, the rabbi of Keneseth Israel Congregation (Conservative), has volunteered to provide Torah commentaries for Community.

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