D’var Torah: Parashat Ki Tavo
In his D’var Torah this week, the Chief Rabbi explains that we are often forced by others into situations which we are neither comfortable with, nor desire. At this special time of the year, we must continue to strive for peace and yearn for a time when others will not cause us to do “that which we wish we didn’t have to do”.
In Parshat Ki Tavo we read how the Israelites would bring their first fruits to the Temple. There they would make a statement so familiar to us from the Haggadah of Pesach ‘Arami Oved Avi’, and in this statement they said these words: Vayoreiu Otanu Hamitzrim Vayanunu, ‘and the Egyptians were bad to us and they afflicted us’.
Now actually, I have just mistranslated these words because Vayoreiu Otanu literally means that ‘they caused us to be bad’.
Some of our commentators explain that the term Vayoreiu actually doesn’t come from the term Rah, which means ‘bad’, it comes from Reiah, which means a ‘friend’, and therefore it has a wonderful meaning – on account of the oppression that the Israelites faced, they became bonded together like friends.
‘On account of the oppression that the Israelites faced, they became bonded together like friends’
The Alshich Hakadosh however, is insistent that Vayoreiu Otanu means ‘they caused us to be bad’. He explains, the Israelites unfortunately found themselves in a situation in which they were doing things which ideally they didn’t want to do and which ideally would be wrong to do. The best example of this is how Moses actually killed a fellow human being, an Egyptian task master who was threatening the life of another Hebrew and then he hid his body in the sand.
It was Golda Meir who once said “in the course of time, we will be able to forgive our enemies for what they have done to us, but we will never forgive them for what they caused us to do to them”.
During the summer, I paid a very moving and memorable visit to the area of the Battle of the Somme. I attended the centenary commemorations there. I stood in those very fields where exactly 100 years ago, within less than 5 months, more than a million people were killed in battle. I thought to myself ‘how is it possible that the world never learnt lessons from it – that the First World War led onto the Second World War?’ And today within our fragile world, we still see so much blood being spilt; so much murder caused through hatred; so much terrorism.
We wish that it wasn’t necessary for our sons and daughters to be trained how to raise arms over a number of years, to have in their minds methodology of how to kill people. It’s necessary, in fact it’s a mitzvah, but it’s so sad that this is what we are engaged in.
Similarly, it is so unfortunate that around the world it’s necessary for us to volunteer to protect buildings, to protect people, thinking of how enemies might try to attack and how we are going to neutralise them. It is not a situation we wish to be in.
‘We yearn for a time when we will have absolute tranquillity and peace. A time when others won’t cause us to do that which we wish we didn’t have to do’
At this time of the year we are extending greetings to others for a Happy New Year. There are so many different ways of wording our sentiments at this time but I have never come across such sentiments which don’t include the word ‘peace’. That is because we yearn for a time when we will have absolute tranquillity and peace. A time when others won’t cause us to do that which we wish we didn’t have to do.
In this spirit, I wish you all Shana Tova. May we and everyone on earth, be blessed with a coming year which is filled with peace and happiness, fulfilment and joy.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova.