Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tavo
According to the Torah this week, the tribes will prepare for entry into the land by getting their “ducks in order.” The tribes line up on the slopes of Mt Gerizim and Mt Eval. Gerizim represents the blessings in life. Eval represents the challenges and transgressions. We walk between these two realms; equilibrium is the best guide on the way.
According to tradition, Mt. Gerizim is lush, and Mt. Eval is barren. Of note, the English word ‘evil” has no etymological relationship to the mountain of curses. That said, that tradition argues as it does, it can get confusing. Sages have posited that the rationale for Torah’s assessment of the mountains’ values stems from several factors.
If one is lush and the other is not, then the point is obvious. Both mountains are barren. The city of Shechem lies in the valley between the mountains and gets fed from springs in the foothills of Gerizim, but Eval is taller. Arguing the stature of blessing over curse is challenging here.
Some argue that everything bad in the bible happens from the north. Eval is the northern mountain. The northern kingdom was anathema in the eyes of the south. Jeremiah speaks of invaders from the north.
My concern for all attempts to prove one over the other ignores a far more problematic assertion in the text. Half the tribes are to line up on one side and the other half on the other. What can one infer from the selection of tribes and their placement? If, as we are prone, one argues that there the good tribes and the bad tribes, the entire system of blessing and t’shuvah (atonement) falls apart. Categorizing people is always morally challenging. Categorizing them based on where they come from is irresponsible. Categorizing them because of their family origins is wrong. Deciding who is good and who is bad because of their domicile place ends up being unholy.
We all find ourselves in places/situations of great challenge through no fault of our own. Many find themselves in places/situations of blessing through no effort/merit of their own. Sometimes, the greater societal moral blessings and failures determine someone’s starting place in the journey to dignity and success. We often find that those born with the silver spoon lack good judgment and wisdom, while those who struggled to make ends meet become the best life coaches.
Understanding that Torah speaks at many levels, I must constantly remind myself that the most problematic literal text is. Since the Bible is not a complete story, we must fill in lots of “holes” to help the text speak. Too many people, though, read the text and close the book: “God has spoken.” If that were the sum-total of our textual examination, then we could justifiably argue that stereotyping is God’s command. People do this … until they are the ones suffering, having been stereotyped.
Certainly, none of us can trace our ancestries to this Biblical mountain story. No one knows which of our ancestors stood atop which mountain. The metaphor tells us that as one people, each of us has stood atop the two mountains – different ones at different times in our life’s journey. Each of us has seen the valley below from atop both peaks.
In reading this story, we understand our obligation to stay focused on the most sacred work – taking care of each other. The final words of the Torah portion admonish us, “And you shall observe the words of this covenant and fulfill them so that you will succeed in all that you do.” Moses spoke to everyone – the people stationed on either side – we will care for each other, and we will succeed.