by Rebbetzin Malkah
In parasha Ki Tavo, the process of giving and confessing the tithes is laid out for the Children of Israel. After completing the tithes, we are to confess or declare our deed of the tithes before Hashem. But then, after all of our submissive acknowledgement, we end on a final note of bold supplication for a blessing.
As if fulfilling a cosmic deal, we seek to right the balance of the heavens for the work that we have done here on earth according to Hashem's command and achieve the required compensation as given by the Torah:
This theme of reflecting what is in the heavens upon the earth and what is upon the earth back into heaven meets us as we are in the season of repentance and reflection of our deeds.
This week's parasha holds for us various opportunities to see beautiful mirroring of the heavens and the ample opportunity to access both of them. The Ohr Hachaim makes an interesting case for there being two heavens; in the verse above, between "your Holy abode" and "the heavens" there is the preposition "from" or min in the Hebrew. Had the heavens been one place, there would have been no reason for the preposition. Since it is not a reiteration, the first heaven is the highest, or Hashem's holy abode - the place where souls are sent out. The other heaven, not as high, is where goodness emanates in order to sustain our earthly needs - physical goodness as it may be.
Before we examine further the above passage carefully to unravel the justice in it, or the justification for the chutzpah, we need to first understand the mitzvah of the tithes more clearly. This mitzvah of giving and confessing the tithes contains a complex fabric of holiness bundled into it. A three-year period is involved in which various tithes are to be brought each year -first to the Levite in the first and second years, and then to the poor in the third year. By giving the tithe to the Levite, we not only are showing gratefulness for the bounty given to us, but we are spiritually and physically giving back to the spiritual representatives for Hashem - first by showing our faithfulness and obedience to Hashem and His stewards for the bounty, and secondly by actually providing food and sustenance for those in His charge. In the third tithe, the giving to the poor, we are seeking to be spiritual representatives of Hashem by giving tzedakah and therefore opening up the heavens of both realms to allow for blessing. By giving back from the land and by submitting ourselves in righteousness, we unlock the heavens to bring about blessings.
But once we have fulfilled the tithe, how is our one request for blessing gauged and in what manner is it ordered that shows we are supplicating to both heavens? As if we are requesting one wish from a genie, it is neatly arranged and ordered for maximum effect. When we ask Hashem to gaze down, most instances of that word in the Torah are not fortuitous for us - for Hashem usually gazes down upon us when we are in our most sinful and woeful states. Here, we are actually doing the asking of the G-d of the universe to gaze down from both places - and this time it is for good reason. When we ask Him to bless "Your people Israel", this corresponds with Hashem gazing down from His holy abode. In what way do we mean to bless Israel? What we are really asking is to cause them to flourish and become numerous - by adding more souls to Israel there is more blessing and this blessing can only come from the highest place. When we ask for the Hashem to bless "the ground that You gave us", this corresponds to the lower heaven, where He sustains our earthly needs and allows us to be fruitful in our harvests. "As You swore to our forefathers" can only be a reference to the promise to Avinu Avraham, when Hashem blessed Avraham declaring that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sands of the seashore - this blessing too must come from the holy abode, where the souls would be made and sent as promised. And finally, to bless us with "a Land flowing with milk and honey" could only be sent from the lower heaven - where the rains would be sent and the winds to generate lush fields and produce.
But what does all this have to do with shuvah (repentance)? Should it matter how many heavens there might be and from where does blessing rain? A verse in the following chapter sums up the magnitude of how we need to be connected different ways to Hashem in order to procure blessing and know where from where our help comes:
Within this passage, we see references to the dual nature of ourselves and the dual nature of what Moshe is saying to us. A few key words should pulse from the verse as we read it - be attentive and hear. What is the difference? Is it not doing the same thing? Not so. When someone tells you to be attentive, you look about you and become aware of your surroundings. You perceive what is happening around you - in this case, your eyes, or your neshama is perceiving what it is right, and what is not right. To hear, or to use your mind and your heart, is to manifest what you know through action. When you hear things, you learn them and make them part of you. Not only are you to use your neshama to exist in this life with the mitzvot of Hashem, but you are to physically do something about it - listen and command it to memory for all time in order that you may perform them. We are to "become a people to Hashem, your G-d." This induction of the B'nei Yisrael into spiritual servitude as am kadosh (a holy people) is the house key to the higher heaven - that we may beseech the King in His lofty abode. But the last part of these verses gives us access as well by creating us to be a people that will hear and do the mitzvot of Hashem "...You shall hearken.....and you shall perform all His commandments" - causing rain to fall upon our land and our land to bear much fruit. Near the close of this parasha, we are given the choice to follow His commandments and receive blessings from the heavens -abundance beyond our needs. However, if we choose not to follow the commandments, Hashem will shut up the lower; our travail and suffering will be so great it might not even dawn on us to cry out. But as a last resort, Hashem does allow us to seeking Him through prayer and shuvah so we can pierce the heavens and cause Him to open them again.
As we enter into a new year and seek to celebrate Rosh Hashana after much soul searching, we will ask to be inscribed in the "Book of Life." We beseech the King in His lofty heights, the higher heaven, to look upon us and to include us in the counting of Avraham's descendants and to show us favor and mercy. As believers in Mashiach Yeshua, we come with an extra nearness as admission that brings us favor to petition the higher heaven and to call upon Hashem's benevolence. But beyond that, we also approach and ask that this year, in its physical day-to-day events, be sweet for us - a physical blessing coming from the lower heaven but making our days special. Our years are truly blessed when we have this two-fold blessing upon us - our spiritual and physical selves and surroundings working in productive harmony.
As we enter into the last half of the month of Elul, let us draw closer to Hashem and seek to follow His ways with more fullness as our Messiah mirrored for us. Let us come before the King at the sounding of the shofar on Erev Rosh Hashana and be attentive and hear. May we have the right to boldly ask Hashem to grant pardon, inscribe us in the Book of Life, bring sweetness upon our days this coming year and open up the heavens to allow blessings upon us and all Israel.
"If My people, upon whom My name is called, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Now My eyes shall be open, and My ears attent, unto the prayer that is made in this place." 2 Chronicles 7:14-15