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D’var Torah: Parashat Ki Tavo

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In this week’s D’var Torah for Ki Tavo, the Chief Rabbi explains that we need to be sensitive enough to spot when vulnerable people need our help.

What is the most difficult verse of the entire Torah to understand? The Gemara in Masechet Megillah (Daf Kaf Dalet Amud Bet), tells us that Rabbi Yosi used to say to others, “Throughout my entire life I have been troubled by the meaning of one verse.”

Isn’t that incredible? He was not troubled by any others? He knew the ‘peirush’ – explanation to them all but for a single verse that troubled him? It must have been a very difficult verse to understand. What was it? It is in Parashat Ki Tavo.

In the midst of the Tochacha, that terrible curse, in which Hashem says, “Vehayita Memashesh B’Tzaherayim K’Asher Yemashesh Ha’Iver Beafeilah” – “The Jewish people will become so lost that we will grope around in the middle of the day like a blind man who gropes around in the middle of the night.”

Rabbi Yosi was troubled because unfortunately, there is no difference for a blind person whether it is night or day. So surely the Torah should have simply said that ‘you will grope around in the middle of the day like a blind man’? Why like a blind man in the middle of the night? For him, sadly, his whole life is as dark as night.

Then Rabbi Yosi reveals that he had the following personal experience. In the middle of the night he was walking along his way, in total darkness when he saw a light coming towards him. The light became larger and larger. And eventually  he saw a blind man walking past him carrying a lantern in his hand. He thought this was absolutely absurd. So he turned to the blind man and he asked, “Why are you carrying this lantern?” The blind man replied, “I am carrying it for other people to see me. If I am just about to fall into a pit, or trip over some branches, they will come and save me.”

So Rabbi Yosi now understood the verse. The Jewish nation can, God forbid, become so lost that we grope around like a blind man in the middle of the night without a lantern in his hand. Not only totally lost, but others  will be oblivious to this fact and will not be able to help us.

I believe that there are two powerful messages for us emerging from this Gemara. First of all we need to recognise that there are some people who are in physical danger. We need to hear their cry out for help, whether they are the people whom we know, living in our vicinity or people we don’t know, living on the other side of the world. We should respond to their call in order to come and help.

Secondly, there are people who are in spiritual danger. They are distanced from their roots. They are disengaged and they might not even know it. But their souls are crying out to be brought back home. We need to respond to them and to share with them the beauty of our tradition and our experiences so that we can hopefully enhance their lives.

From the verse which Rabbi Yosi believed is the most difficult verse in the Torah, we learn how important it is for us to reach out to others who need our assistance.

Shabbat Shalom