D’var Torah for September 20, 2019

This week we will be reading from parashat Ki Tavo. These last parshiyot (Torah portions) are all part of Moses’ final words to the Israelites. As the Plaut Torah Commentary describes, they are part of his “final appeal and farewell …” Ki Tavo “summarizes Israel’s history, highlighted by the establishment of the Covenant. Then in covenantal style, it recapitulates blessings and curses, with heaven and earth invoked as witnesses to this formal restatement.”[1]
In Ki Tavo, Moses teaches, “The Eternal your God commands you this day to observe these laws and rules; observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul” (Deuteronomy 26:16). But what if we are not able to observe all the mitzvot with all of our heart our soul?
As Reform Jews, we have made the conscious and deliberate choice to focus mostly on our ethical interpretations of the commandments with less emphasis on ritual observances. But even then, we sometimes fall short of our own aspirations for how we strive to live openly, and proudly as progressive Jews.
The High Holy Days are all about reorienting ourselves by helping us to return to the ways set before us by our tradition and by our personal goals. In this way, Ki Tavo ties in nicely with the observance of Selichot.
Traditionally, Selichot falls on the last Saturday evening before Rosh Hashanah unless Rosh Hashanah falls on a Monday or Tuesday, then it is observed the week before (like this year). During this time, it is tradition to recite a number of penitential prayers and poems to help prepare the individual and community for the spiritual challenges as we enter the High Holy Day Season. This powerful and meaningful experience contains liturgical and poetic expressions designed to turn our hearts towards God and our true selves.
Through the reading of Ki Tisa, we are not just observing and celebrating Shabbat, we are also connecting our weekly Torah reading to our greater preparation for the Yamim Norai’im, the High Holy Days. During these days may we be encouraged to uncover and reconnect to the pathways of holiness we have set for ourselves.
With this in mind, please join us for a Dessert Reception this Saturday, September 21 at 7:45 PM which will then be followed by both our musical presentation featuring Jewish Rock Star Rick Recht at 8:30 PM and our Selichot Service with Cantor Neff and our wonderful choir at 10:00 PM.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
[1] Plaut., Gunther W., ed., The Torah: A Modern Commentary, New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2005, pg. 1348