September 2020, Parshat Ki Tavo

Dear Friends,
This past week I had the opportunity to represent our wonderful Kehillah to discuss racism in Australia on a ZOOM panel hosted by Nina Taylor MP. Representing one of 6 diverse faith and multicultural groups, I was able to share some of my experiences with racism in Australia. While I feel blessed to have been born in such a wonderful country and do not often feel marginalised or othered it was still important to share some of the less positive experiences I have had.

The panel was particularly interested to hear about my thoughts about the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world but also the way it has increased in Australia. While my personal experiences with anti-Semitism have been few and far in between, I was able to share a few stories that demonstrated that we cannot be blind to the fact that anti-Semitism still exists here and must not be tolerated in any form.

In addition, I was able to learn and listen to my fellow multicultural and faith leaders about their experiences with racism and discrimination in Australia. I learned a lot from sitting and contributing to this panel and I am glad that Nina Taylor MP took the time to facilitate and organise such an important educational learning experience for both the community and panellists to enjoy.

While Australia is such a wonderful country to live in, we cannot take our situation for granted and the panel event helped me to further understand some of the other challenges faced by other multicultural and faith groups here in Victoria. I look forward to implementing some new ideas about how to educate our younger community members and Kehillah about being accepting, tolerant and understanding of others. Stay tuned!

Which brings me to this week’s Parsha,  Ki Tavo. It continues the theme of the Book of Devarim where Moshe continues, week on week, to impart the Jewish people with key reminders of their most important laws and stories.

The laws surrounding the Bikkurim, the first firsts are discussed with an emphasis on how produce and farming are dependent on many factors, including the weather, harvest ability and labour. These many factors that result in a bountiful crop should be reflected by showing gratitude to G-d for the blessings that the farmers and people have received through donating their first fruits to the Temple.

The Tochacha, loosely translated as the ‘rebuke’ is also discussed in this week’s Parsha. After listing the blessings that the people of Israel will receive for abiding by G-d’s laws a long and harsh account of all the bad things that will befall the people of Israel is listed if they do not abide by G-d’s law. This part of the Parsha seems rather terrifying.

What is the purpose of the Tochacha? What is the rationale in listing these terrible outcomes that may befall the Jewish people if they do not abide by the laws?

The Book of Devarim is the equivalent of Moshe’s last will and testament. While the first half of Devarim is a recount of the laws and stories, the final Parshiot are dedicated to prophesying things that will happen to the people of Israel.

As Jewish people, we have freewill, the opportunity to decide how we will act and what kind of behaviour we will engage in. The Tochacha is thus not to be read as a definite, but rather, a description of the terrifying things that can befall the Jewish people and society by extension if they fail to adhere to the law of the Torah.

The world described by Moshe in the Tochacha is one in which chaos reigns, where the lines between good and bad are blurred and norms taken for granted do not exist. This is a terrifying predicament for any society.

Therefore, by listing the potential consequences Moshe hopes to instil the importance of abiding by Torah, our Divine blueprint in our lives so that we do not live in societies where utter chaos is the norm.

Wishing you and your families a restful Shabbat!

Rabbi Gabi