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Home » CBT, Ki Tavo, Marriage

Ki Tavo: How To Grow A Relationship

Submitted by on September 11, 2011 – 2:45 amNo Comment | 660 views

An Odd Verse

Many verses in the Torah are difficult to translate, but this one is a real mystery.

You spoke G-d this day, to be your lord… And G-d spoke you this day to be His people.” (1)

Can you make sense of this verse? If you’re struggling with it you’re in good company because so have many of our sages. Four Translations

In this essay we will explore four of the many translations offered by the sages and, in the process, discover that the Torah is difficult to decipher not because it makes little sense, but because it makes so much sense that it overwhelms the senses.

  1. Rabbi Yehudah Halevi translated this verse in the most literal sense. G-d treated us wonderfully, which inspired us to proclaim Him our G-d and we behaved in a laudable manner giving G-d cause to proclaim us His nation. (2)

 

  • Rashi, the famed eleventh century sage, suggested that it means to select. You selected G-d on this day from among all the idols and G-d selected you from among all the nations. (3)
  • Rashi’s second suggestion framed the verse in the context of glorification. You glorified G-d by agreeing to be His nation and G-d glorified you by making you His treasured people. (4)
  • Unkelus the Proselyte understood this verse in the spirit of the Talmudic dictum, “you have made me a single block… and I shall make you a single block.” (5) Through the Torah, a bond is forged with G-d that renders Him and us, a single block. (6)

 

On the surface these four interpretations have a random feel to them. How does the word “said” come to mean select, glorify or bond? Also, is there a link between these seemingly disparate translations?

Upon analysis we discover a common thread that maps out the history of our relationship with G-d and offers insight how to grow a relationship. Here we encounter the depth of the Torah’s wisdom, where a single word can unveil a masterful and multifaceted teaching.

Four Stages

Relationships progress along a path of four stages. They begin with an exploration of each other’s virtues. If we approve, we proclaim ourselves prepared to progress into the process of selection. After the relationship has been joined we enjoy its benefits and glorify in its correctness. Finally we grow so completely into the relationship that we meld with it and it becomes a part of us.

As my experience is in the rabbinate let us use an example from the rabbinate. When a congregation prepares to search for a rabbi they begin with an exploration of the candidate’s virtues. They peruse his resume and if they like it, invite him for a trial period. If they are satisfied with the candidate they will have cause, as Rabbi Yehudah Halevi wrote, to proclaim themselves ready to enter negotiations.how to grow a relationship - innerstream

The second stage consists of formally hiring the Rabbi. As Rashi put it in his first translation, the congregation selects the Rabbi from among all candidates and the Rabbi selects the congregation.

The third stage unfolds as the years pass by and the rabbi grows into his position. The Rabbi and congregation realize how well they suit each other. As Rashi put it, the congregation glorifies in their Rabbi’s success and the Rabbi, in their growth.

Along this trajectory of growth a point arrives, when the rabbi has served the pulpit for several decades, that he comes to identify with the congregation and they with him. One no longer asks why this rabbi belongs to this pulpit, it is understood that the pulpit and the rabbi have grown into each other. As Unkelus put it, they have become a single block.

In Marriage

You can trace this trajectory across the entire spectrum of relationships. It is true of a CEO at a fortune 500 company and of a clerk at a mom and pop shop. It is also true of marriage.

Consider that all marriages begin with matching our prospective spouses against a checklist of virtues that we carry around in our heads. If the candidate lives up to our expectations, if he or she is exactly what we are looking for or close enough to it, we embark on a courtship.

If the courtship progresses we take it to the next level and propose. This is the second stage, the stage of selecting each other. The third stage evolves with marriage. The relationship unfolds as we learn more about each other and enjoy the person we have grown to love. We complement each other and are made better by each other. We glorify in our spouse and our spouse in us.

After several decades of marriage the relationship reaches a point of melding, where husband and wife become one. If one should ask either party why they are married to each other, the answer shortly after marriage might involve a litany of compliments and admirable traits. After two or three decades, the answer is much simpler. Why am I with her? Because she is my wife? Why is she my wife? Because she is. That’s the way it is and it can be no other way.

With G-d

It is interesting to note that our relationship with G-d progressed along the same four stages. The first stage began with Abraham and continued till the exodus. G-d liked our moral standards and sacred comportment, we liked that He protected and provided for us. We proclaimed our interest in each other and thus concluded stage one. This is consistent with the first translation of the verse we cited above.

The next stage occurred at Sinai, when we selected G-d to be our Lord and He selected us to be His people. This was stage two, consistent with the second translation of the verse we cited above.

The third stage evolved over the next millennia. We built a majestic Temple for G-d, where we glorified Him, and He glorified us by rendering us a powerful nation in a land flowing with milk and honey. This was stage three, consistent with the third translation of the verse we cited above.

The last stage is the one we experience with G-d today. If someone were to ask you why you are a Jew you are not likely to explain about the exodus and Sinai. You are more likely to reply that you are a Jew because were born to a Jewish mother. We have grown into Judaism and it is now our identity. We can no more stop being Jewish than we can stop being ourselves. This is stage four, consistent with the final translation of the verse we cited above and the highest form of relationship that one can aspire to.

Three thousand years ago, our ancestors, poised to enter the Holy Land, were taught how to pursue their relationship with G-d. It was a single statement, filled with foresight and depth. With it, He prepared us for the oncoming stages of our relationship. In a single word He taught us how to grow our bond so that it remains vibrant and how to ensure that it never turns stagnant. It is a teaching we can use in marriage and one we can use in our bond with G-d.

Footnotes

  1. Deuteronomy 26: 17-18.
  2. Quoted by Rabbi Avraham Ibn Izra, Deuteronomy 26: 17-18.
  3. Rashi’s commentary on Deuteronomy 26: 17-18. Rashi acknowledges that there is no parallel in the Torah for the use of the word speak to imply selection, but suggests this interpretation nevertheless.
  4. This is similar to Rabbi Avraham Ibn Izra translation of this verse as exalted. G-d was exalted above all when we chose Him and we were exalted above all when He chose us.
  5. Vayikra Rabbah 3: 3.
  6. Targum Unkelus, is an Aramaic translation of the Torah written by Unkelus, a member of the Roman noble class, who converted to Judaism and became a Torah scholar. Unkelus’ translation is further elucidated by Rabbi Naftali Yehudah Zvi Berlin in his commentary, Haamek Davar, to Deuteronomy 26: 17-18.
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