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Home » Ki Tavo

Ki Tavo: Making it Relevant

Submitted by on August 29, 2007 – 10:10 pmNo Comment | 2,503 views

Returning to Earth
Does a falling tree produce a sound if no one is around to hear it? Jewish philosophers never respond to such questions with a simple yes or no. Instead we reply, in perfect Talmudic cadence, if a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it really matter if it produces a sound? Unheard sounds are utterly irrelevant.

Mountain climbers train to climb rough terrains and scale high peaks. However, their venture does not end when they reach the precipice. They must yet return. It would be sheer madness to train for the ascent and forget to conserve energy for the descent. Those who reach the top, but cannot return, are trapped by their own success. They have not achieved. They have failed.

If they can’t descend and savor the success, the climb is utterly irrelevant.

Rapture and Action

Judaism advocates meditation, faith and an emotional attachment to G-d. Judaism also advocates a pragmatic code of ethics. It lays out a rigorous course of action with laws that govern the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the way we interact with others.

Meditation requires silence. It is, by definition, an isolated retreat into self, where the presence of others is distracting. The benefits we accrue from it are enormous, but they are lofty and intangible.

Meditation produces clarity of vision and a deep understanding of life’s divine purpose. It endows every breath of life with mystical meaning. It stimulates a soulful desire for G-d and heightens our awareness of his immanence.

The meditative experience is akin to mountain climbing. Scaling the highest spiritual peak is personally satisfying, but the achievement loses all meaning if we don’t learn to descend. The rapture and spiritual clarity that is gained at the top must be brought back to the bottom. They must be channeled into the ordinary activities of every day.

Of what relevance is sound if it cannot be heard? Of what relevance is personal inspiration if it does not improve the way we live and the world we live in? We must share our inspiration with others. It must be poured into every mundane action and every nuanced relationship. It must enhance the way we interact with others and it must impact the way we fulfill G-d’s commandments.

The commandments are conduits through which meditative inspiration is channeled into our physical reality. Through them, the transcendental spirit is grounded. They are the body to the meditative soul.

Letters and Ideas

We might use letters and ideas by way of analogy. Letters are the conduits through which ideas are channeled. Ideas without words are inaccessible to us.

Pure, unadulterated, insight exceeds articulate thought. It is the raw material of wisdom that is sensed rather than understood. It is a brilliant moment of clarity that transcends comprehension. No letter can articulate this depth of perception. No word can describe the elation of discovery.

A pure insight remains impermanent until it is grounded through the process of articulation. It must be analyzed and reduced to manageable components and then articulated. This process reduces the purity and thrill of the insight, but it enhances our ability to comprehend it and thus preserve it.

An insight without letters is like a liquid without a bottle. The liquid spills and falls uselessly to the ground. The insight too will dissipate and be lost to us forever unless it is grounded through the process of articulation.

Inspiration gained through meditation also dissipates and becomes utterly irrelevant. The only way to ground it is to channel it through the observance of G-d’s commandments.

The Basket

This will help us understand a curious point in the biblical text related to the offering of Bikurim, the first fruit. The first fruit to ripen in a Jewish field was designated an offering to G-d. These offerings were placed in a basket, brought to the temple and delivered to the priest.

When describing the handing over of the fruits to the priest, the Torah emphasizes that the priest must take the basket. Not the fruit, but the basket. (1) Our sages inferred from this passage that this offering was only valid when delivered in a basket. Why the great emphasis on the basket? Why was bringing it by hand insufficient?

Before descending to this world, the soul resides in heaven where it enjoys an intense relationship with G-d. Yet the soul descends to this world where it is placed in a physical basket, the human body. The purpose of this descent is to study the Torah and fulfill its commandments in a physical sense. This, in turn, grants the soul an even more intense relationship with G-d upon its return to heaven.

The soul is a steaming cauldron of divine inspiration, but it cannot reach perfection unless it is inserted into a physical body and observes the commandments in a physical sense. The highest forms of inspiration, the deepest levels of wisdom are utterly irrelevant unless they are given physical expression. This is provided by the body, the physical basket.

The first fruit was an offering of the highest caliber. It was first not only in order of chronology, but also in order of magnitude. It represented the beauty and sanctity of the Jewish soul; highest in order of magnitude before G-d. Yet, despite its mystical and spiritual significance, it is unfit for an offering, it cannot stand before G-d, without the physical basket. (2)

It is the peak without the foot hills. It is the sound without the listener.  (3)



  • Deuteronomy 26: 2 and 4.
  • Ohr Hatorah (R.Menachem M. Schneerson, Third Rebbe of Lubavitch, 1789-1866) Ki Tavo p. 10032 and 10039.
  • This essay is based in part on Likutei Sichos (R. Menachem M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994) v. IXXX  p. 150.


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