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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

08/31/2023 05:00:02 PM

Aug31

Rabbi Chelsea Feuchs

This week's Torah portion, Parashat Ki Tavo, is a doozy! Moses, loquacious as ever, continues to advise the Israelites on how to behave when they enter the Promised Land. This part of his farewell speech begins nicely, with assurances of abundant harvests, a retelling of the Exodus story, and reminders about the importance of providing for the most vulnerable. But soon enough the mood shifts, as Moses outlines curses that will befall the people if they ignore God's commandments. These punishments read like a horror movie that is too frightening to be screened in theaters. Plague, exposed carcasses, even cannibalism? Ki Tavo should come with a content warning: May cause nightmares! 

Among all these disturbing verses, one caught my eye because it seemed out of place. The Israelites are told that if they misbehave and are ejected from the land as a result, they will become "a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples to which Adonai will drive you" (Deuteronomy 28:37). In the midst of listing terrible punishments ranging from famine to relocation to enslavement, why bother mentioning to our ancestors the way outside peoples would perceive them? Surely that isn't equal to the other threats on the list...right?

Well...yes and no. External judgment isn't the same as physical pain, but it can cause or exacerbate internal turmoil. What's more, the Israelites were told just two chapters earlier to think of themselves as shining exemplars who would be set "in fame and renown and glory high above all the nations" (Deuteronomy 26:19). We may reject the overtones of superiority in that verse, but surely we can understand the pressure our ancestors felt that all eyes were on them. In our modern age of social media, we have been trained to seek out likes and views and attention from others. We know that sometimes people go viral for their talent and skills, but just as often this happens because they are being mocked or judged. Especially this week, as our kids head back to school, let's remember the power of outside perception to shape the way we feel inside. Let's encourage our children to draw their sense of connection and self-worth from the friendships they hold dear, the communities they are part of, and the gifts they bring into our world. And may we do this work in the most effective way possible: leading by example. 

Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784