Ki Tavo by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Kee Tavo: The Blessing and the Curse

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

 

Scene: The journey to Mt. Gerizim and to Mt. Ebal, there to receive the Blessing and the Curse from God (Deut. 27:11-14). The words of the Curse are the harshest to be found in the entire Torah, and remain controversial to this day. The Torah lists them in the manner common to Ancient Near Eastern covenants, such as GOD is making with Israel: a renewal, albeit more detailed, of the Covenant which God made with Abraham, long before.

Two families of the tribes designated to receive the Blessing and Curse, Shimon and Reuven respectively, are trudging through the sand, on their way to their destination mountains. A boy and a girl, about ten and nine years old, from each of the families, run out to play during the journey. They meet.

 

Boy: Hi—um, I mean, Shalom. What’s your name?

Girl (shyly): Hi yourself. Why do you ask?

Boy (taken aback): Hey, I was just being polite (turns away; over his shoulder). I just thought you might want to play, is all.

Girl: Wait! What’s your name? My Mama says that polite people always introduce themselves.

Boy: Oh—my name is Chayil ben Dodo oo’Ruchama, ben Odov’Siri—(proudly) I can go all the way back to Reuven, if you like. My great-great-great, Reuven, was the eldest of the Tribes. There now! And who are you, Miss? You see that my parents taught me to be polite, especially to ladies.

Girl: My name is Chaviva bat Avida v’Chinit, bat Choniv’Na’ah. I can also go back as far as you, to our great-great, Shimon, a great warrior of Israel.

Boy: Well, now that we’re properly introduced, do you want to play?

Girl: What is there to play, out here? The sun is so hot—and all of my toys are packed up.

Boy: There’s always something. (Touching her gently on the arm) Tag! You’re it. (He runs away)

Girl: Oh, I can catch you! (She chases him)

Ruchama, Chayil’s mother: Chayil! Come back here. You’ll get lost in this desert, and some wild creature will eat you up!

Chayil: Just playing, Mama. (He and Chaviva walk over to Ruchama)

Ruchama: Where is your family, Little Girl?

Chaviva: Just over there (pointing).

Ruchama: And of which tribe? Aren’t they worried about you?

Chaviva: Everyone in the Tribe of Shimon looks out for us children. We have a lot of aunts and uncles, and especially cousins. They know where I am (waving): Papa! Mama! I’m over here.

Ruchama: Yes, just as we Reubenites do—though I have never met a Shimonite before, especially a little one like you. Would you like to walk along with us?

Chaviva: Sure.

Ruchama: You are a bold little thing, aren’t you?

Chaviva: My Papa says that we Israelites must all be courageous, in order to face the future without Moses, May he flourish and prosper! And that we are entering a hostile land.

Chayil: Aren’t you afraid? You’re just a girl.

Chaviva: I can take care of myself.

(A Voice from the front of the line calls out:)

Israelites! The time has come to separate, and to climb your assigned mountain. Shimon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin—ascend Mt. Gerizim, there to receive the Blessings of God. As for you, Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan and Naphtali—ascend Mt. Ebal, for the Curses you are to receive. Now then! Men first, and women and children are to follow, at a respectful distance—March! Oh, and sing something.

(The People manage to sing, weakly from thirst, a chorus of “Am Yisrael Chai,” despite its not having been written yet. Some minutes pass, with people groaning, “Why did I not wear the older sandals?” “There’s my bunion, again—” and “Keep your distance, can’t you, Danites?” “Sorry; the Naphtalites are hard upon us, if we slow down,” etc.)

Kohen’s Voice: Now, you are all at the top! Stand quietly, and wait for the proclamations: Field Marshal Joshua ben-Nun will read the Blessings, and Lieutenant General Calev ben Yephuneh the Curses. Attend! For this is the future of all Israel. Let us begin with the Curses. Gen. Calev, recite!

Calev: “Cursed be anyone who makes a sculptured image, which the Lord hates, and sets it up in secret. …Cursed be he who fools a blind person on his way. …Cursed be he who strikes down his fellow citizen in secret. …. (Dt. 27:15,18,24)”

Voice: Let all the People say Amen! And now, Field Marshal Joshua, to recite the Blessings.

Joshua: “Blessed shall be your basket of produce, and your kneading bowl. …Blessed shall you be in your comings and in your goings. ….(Dt.28:5-6)”

Voice: Hear, now, the consequences of backsliding before the Lord!

Calev: “Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. …Cursed shall be your children and the produce of your soil, and the offspring of your cattle. …The Lord will send calamity, panic, and frustration in everything you undertake, so that you shall soon be utterly wiped out because of your evildoing in your forsaking Me. …(Dt.28:16-18,20)”

Chaviva: Oh, my, that’s awful!

Chayil: Yes, it is. Mama—

Ruchama: Shhh! General Calev is speaking.

Chaviva: Excuse me, Chayil’s Mother, but isn’t he saying bad things?

Ruchama: God cannot possibly say, or do, anything bad.

Chaviva: Really? I don’t think so.

Chayil(smugly): That’s ‘cause you’re a girl.

Chaviva(angrily): What do you mean by that, Little Boy Chayil?

Chayil: I, uh—that is, uh—

Chaviva: I must stop this (Stands on a rock, the better to be heard). General Calev, excuse me! General, excuse me, please!

(The People all stare, and mutter: “The nerve! That little minx, interrupting our mighty general and field marshal!” “Still, those curses were kind of harsh—” “But the Lord God is true, and His judgments are righteous, altogether!” “Oh, but didn’t even Our Father Abraham challenge God, at Sodom?” “Yes, but not when God asked for his son to be sacrificed!” etc.)

Gen. Calev (nonplussed, but polite): Yes, Little Miss?

Joshua: Calev, by the Lord’s Life, what are you doing, over there?

Chaviva: Oh, Field Marshal Joshua! Your honor, I am Chaviva, the small and weak. Still, I protest—those curses are too harsh, and I know that there are more to come, even worse.

Joshua: Well, how else are we to ensure that the People will not rebel or backslide?

Chayil (perking up): Why not teach them right from wrong, instead of cursing and punishing them?

Calev: Hm. Novel idea, that. What think you, Josh—Um, Field Marshal?

Joshua: Israelites! We will take a day to consider the ideas of these small children, our future. Perhaps things will come out all right, in the end….

The Children: Thank you and Bless you, Lord Joshua!


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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