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Home » Economy, Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo: Faith and Trust

Submitted by on August 22, 2010 – 3:37 amNo Comment | 694 views

The Last Sermon

Shortly before his passing Moses addressed the nation:
 
“You have seen all that the Lord has done before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land; the great trials which your eyes beheld and those great signs and wonders. Yet until this day, the Lord has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear.

I led you through the desert for forty years [during which time] your garments did not wear out from upon you, nor did your shoes wear out from upon your feet. You neither ate bread, nor drank new wine or old wine, in order that you would know that I am the Lord, your God.

 And then you arrived at this place. And Sihon, the king of Heshbon, and Og, the king of Bashan, came out towards us in battle, and we smote them. And we took their land, and we gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh.

And you shall observe the words of this covenant and fulfill them, in order that you will succeed in all that you do.” (1)

The Source of Sustenance

Moses wanted his people to know that they had been treated to a forty year diet of miracles for an important reason.  As a society we understand the responsibility we bear toward our successes and failures. Success is commensurate with the efforts we invest. If we make an effort we have a chance to succeed; failure to invest ensures failure to succeed.

Yet, Moses wanted us to recall that despite our obligation to fend for ourselves we are ultimately dependent on G-d. All the hustling in the world will not help us if G-d does not grace our efforts with success. It is not often that G-d shows his hand in an obvious miracle, but let us make no mistake; the unchanging, predictable patterns of nature are just as much G-d’s hand as are His miracles.

For example, economists can trace the economic success of any nation to its causal factors. Still, these factors alone cannot ensure success. There are no assurances in life; two nations might boast the very same set of economic factors and one will succeed where the other will not. Furthermore, sometimes a nation fails financially despite the robust elements of its economy. At other times the same nation might succeed despite the terrible elements of its economy.

The same holds true for every facet of life. Whether it is war, the economy, education or medicine, results can only be assumed in advance, never assured. This is because the success or failure of any project boils down to a choice made by G-d. If He wants us to succeed, we do. If he wants us to fail we will; notwithstanding the many factors in our favor.
faith and trust - innerstream
That everything depends on G-d is what Moses wanted our ancestors to accept. The reason they had lived a miraculous life, one governed openly by G-d, was to impress this truth upon them. It had taken forty years for this teaching to filter through their consciousness and truly take root, but now that they had absorbed this axiom they were ready to enter Israel. Their lives in Israel would not be governed by miracles, but still they would remember that everything is in G-d’s hands.

Taking responsibility for our well being could be daunting; it could so totally consume our consciousness that we could forget about G-d. But the people that had received the covenant at Sinai could not be permitted to forget. So long as entry into the Holy Land would lead to their abandonment of the covenant, they could not be permitted to enter. After forty years, when they finally absorbed the fact of G-d’s involvement in their daily routines of life, the Jews were ready to enter. It was at this point that Moses informed them with glee that, at long last, the time had come; they would now be permitted to enter. (2)

How did Moses Know

It was surely a thrilling moment for Moses. His people had been wandering for decades and, finally, had absorbed the axiom of faith that G-d had been waiting for them to learn. The question is how did Moses know? What convinced him that they had learned their lesson?

Here we turn to a story related by Rashi, the famed eleventh century Biblical commentator.

“I heard that on the very day that Moses gave the Torah scroll to the sons of Levi, as the verse says, “And he gave it to the kohanim , the sons of Levi” (Deut. 31:19)-all Israel came before Moses and said to him: “Moses, our Teacher! We also stood at [Mount] Sinai and accepted the Torah, and it was [also] given to us! Why, then, are you giving the members of your tribe control over it, so that some day in the future they may claim, ‘It was not given to you-it was given only to us!’” Moses rejoiced over this matter and it was on account of this, that he said to them, “This day, you have become a people [to the Lord your God]” (Deut. 27:9). [This meant:] “It is today that I understand that you cleave to the Omnipresent and desire Him.” (3)

Moses entrusted the Torah to his tribe because the Levites were supported financially by the entire nation and were free to study Torah. When the Jews insisted that they too wanted the Torah he understood that they too were prepared to devote their lives to Torah study. Despite their need to make a living, they were prepared to trust G-d and devote their energies to Torah study.

Surely most Jews would not actually populate the study halls all day long, but the fact that they reserved the right to do so told Moses that they considered this a genuine option; something they could only consider if they recognized that their destiny ultimately depends on G-d. At that moment Moses knew that the nation had finally learned to entrust their fate to G-d.

Moses understood that most would Jews work for a living, but they would recognize that their efforts would only succeed on account of G-d’s goodwill. They had finally learned that to “succeed in all that you do” you cannot abandon G-d. Rather you must “observe the words of this covenant and fulfill them.” (4)

Now they could enter the Holy Land as a Holy People. One can almost Moses exult as he proclaimed, “Today I [finally] understand that you cleave to the Omnipresent and desire Him.”

Footnotes

  1. Deuteronomy 29: 1-8.
  2. See Meshech Chochmoh on Deuteronomy 29:3. Indeed,
    the first few centuries of Jewish life in Israel were largely marked by a
    pattern of piety and material abundance. Jews remembered that success
    did not depend on their resourcefulness and ingenuity, but on G-d. They
    respected their covenant and were amply rewarded.
  3. Rashi ibid. Indeed over the years there have always
    been members of tribes other than Levi that devoted themselves
    completely to the study of Torah. See Babylonian Talmud Nadarim 62a and
    Maimonides laws of Shemitah 13: 12-12.
  4. D’rash Moshe ibid.
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