Shabbat Message for Ki Tavo: Ready, Aim, Live!

Posted on August 27, 2021 by Rabbi Arnie S. Gluck

The Dubner Maggid told a parable that speaks poignantly to this moment in the cycle of the Jewish year:
A champion marksman was passing through a tiny village when he saw a hundred circles drawn on the side of a barn – and in the center of each circle was a bullet hole.
The man was so amazed, he stopped his horse and yelled out: “Who is this expert shot? A hundred perfect bullseyes! That’s incredible! Even I could not do that!”
Just then, a boy walking by looked up at the man on his tall horse and snickered, “Oh, that’s Nar, our town fool!”
“I don’t care what he is,” interrupted the man. “Whoever can shoot a hundred perfect bullseyes must have won every gold medal in the world! I must meet him and shake his hand!”
“Oh no, no, no, you don’t understand,” laughed the boy. “Nar doesn’t draw the circle and then shoot. He shoots first, and then he draws the circle.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses is looking ahead to when the Children of Israel will enter the Promised Land. “Ki tavo el ha-aretz… when you enter the Land the Eternal your God is giving you as an inheritance…”
Moses goes on to describe a series of rituals that the people are to perform when they arrive, all of which will link their present moment to the experiences and values of their past.
Coming to a new land, experiencing a new reality of freedom and possibility, Moses understands that more than ever the people need to be rooted in their past and its values. He is, in essence, painting the target for them to aim at.
When they bring in their first harvest, the first fruits of the land that God has given them, they are to put some of it in a basket and bring it as an offering. And when they do, they are to recite words that we still recite each year as part of the Passover seder: “My father was a wandering Aramean…”
They are to celebrate their freedom from Egyptian bondage and share their bounty with the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Gratitude, generosity, inclusiveness, kindness, compassion… These are the values that are to be their North Star.
In the future, when they look back and reflect on how they have lived, and when they look forward to new beginnings, they will have a standard by which to judge the substance of their lives. They will have a vision of a life that is whole and holy, and so do we.
The waning moon of the month of Elul reminds us that the New Year will soon be upon us. And so, this is our time for deep reflection, to consider the ways we have lived up to our values and aspirations, and to acknowledge the ways we have missed the mark. It is a time to make amends with those whom we’ve hurt or disappointed and to seek and grant forgiveness.
Let us not be like the fool in the Maggid’s story who shoots first and then paints the target. Let us renew our vision of the path of goodness and righteousness that we have been taught to follow. Let us reach out to one another in love and compassion that the New Year before us may be one of great goodness and fulfillment, peace and harmony, joy and blessing.
Shabbat shalom and l’shanah tovah!
Rabbi Arnie Gluck