Parasha Ki Tavo

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ki Tavo, opens with the ritual presentation of first fruits by the Israelite farmer to the Priest. Giving the basket to the Priest, the farmer says, “I make known today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land that the Lord promised to our ancestors to give to us….” There are several unique features to this declaration, most notably the use of the second person—the Lord your God—instead of the first person, “the Lord our God.”

This is addressed by 14th Century Spanish scholar Rabbeinu Bachya as being intended to remove any doubt about who the farmer’s God is. But then he speaks about drawing down God’s presence. He says that an Israelite who prays is drawing on God’s power, much as the Priest does in offering our sacrifices. In this way, the Israelite is doing in prayer what the Priest does with “his” God in sacrifice. Bachya is playing on the second person “your God” but also on the Hebrew word “higid.” He is not so explicit, but Bachya seems to be associating the verb higid with the noun gid, which is a tendon—a connective tissue. The concept is indicating the power of prayer to make connection, to draw God into relationship.

Prayer is an ongoing process of building connection with God and drawing God’s heavenly force into the world.  Prayer requires a human effort.  This example from the first fruits declaration points to a core task of each Jew as we proceed through Elul towards the Yamim Noraim, Days of Awe. That task is to bridge the alienation, the distancing from God, which is the consequence of our spiritual distraction over the course of the year. It is said that we proclaim “The Lord is God” seven times at the end of Ne’ilah in order to escort the Shekhinah (God’s dwelling place) out of our midst back into the seventh level of Heaven. Yet at this point, we are devoting seven weeks from the great alienation of Tisha Ba’Av to the renewal of Rosh HaShanah in seeking to draw God ever closer to mankind. More precisely, we are trying to cajole ourselves closer to awareness of God’s presence on earth through our purification and prayer.

We give strength to one another, adding urgency and power to our prayer. I look forward to praying together with you in the weeks and months ahead, drawing strength from our community, and bringing God’s presence closer into our lives. Let us entice one another to tefillah, prayer, and thereby enfold the Divine presence into our midst.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham