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Ki Tavo 5781 ~ September 5, 2020


May all your teeth fall out, except one. And that should ache you.

May you win a lottery, and spend it all on doctors.

May you live in a house with a hundred rooms, and may each room have its own bed, and

may you wander every night from room to room, and from bed to bed, unable to sleep.

May you grow so rich your widow 's second husband never has to worry about making a living.

May you grow two more hands to scratch all your itches.

One has to love Yiddish and its humor. 

This week’s Torah reading  has a similar sense of humor. One of the statements in this week’s reading that causes me to chuckle each time I read it is “cursed be he who lies down in bed with his mother-in-law.”  Sounds like something out of Comedy Central.  Like anyone could ever imagine something like this ever happening!  So, what is the response?  Amen…as in Amen brother, never happening in my lifetime!  While I may joke about this particular curse, the truth is:  my family knows me for observing the mitzvah of honoring a mother-in-law. I call her almost every day in Long Island to see how her day is going.  Like many of us here with children in other states and communities, that simple call makes a big difference for not only for the elderly parent or grandparent, but for the one making the call as well.

Our Torah reading in truth was not  humorous at all. It was quite serious with blessings and curses. Moses stood and proscribed the words with half of the Israelite nation standing on Mt. Ebal, and the other half standing on Mt. Gerizim. Would it have made a difference if one stood on the mountain top of where the  curses were pronounced versus on the one where blessings were heaped upon those assembled?  The answer might be dependent on whether one assumed that the curses were focused on oneself, rather than the Israelite nation as a whole!  I am certain that the blessings were well received. As I read the narrative, I can only imagine the drama of the moment as it unfolded. The grandeur of the moment must have filled the souls and the minds of each participant with an awesomeness that we might equal to reciting the “Al Cheyt,”  for the sin that we committed: that we recite on Yom Kippur.  Whether a curse or a blessing, the entire assembly was to respond: “Amen.” 

As we prepare for the High Holy Days, let’s examine one of the Al Cheyt’s that we will recite this Yom Kippur:  "Al cheyt shechatanu liefanecha beenteyat garon. "Our Mahzor translates this statement to mean:  We have sinned against you in arrogance. What the Hebrew reflects is not precisely that. What the Hebrew says is "with the inflection of the throat."  Take for example the word: “Thank G-d, it’s morning!” With the change of inflection, one could share the excitement of the morning, or one could pronounce dismay. 

Here is another example.  What do you express when you say how to say hello. You can say hello and be friendly. You can say hello, walking by and not mean it. You can say hello in anger. You can say hello in love. You can say hello in "you look interesting." You can say hello in return to another's saying hello, but really meaning: “get away from my face.” It is not simply the tone, but the affect of one’s body language! 

It may not simply be the tone, but the situation. You invite a friend or an acquaintance over for dinner one night. While sitting in the living room enjoying a cocktail your guest spills his or her cocktail on your rug and the mustard for the snacks you have put out, or the dip onto the rug. What do you say? "Don't worry about it! They are coming to clean the carpet tomorrow! "

A few days later,  your spouse, passing through the living room, spills his or her soda and drops a few potato chips on the carpet. How do you talk then? "What do you think I am your maid? Can't you be more careful!"

When we pray, these inflections are also a part of our prayer. We speak in happiness, in joy, in anger, in sadness. We say it bustling with emotion, or with no emotion at all. All of these emotions are truthful. It is what G-d truthfully is expecting from us. 

As we recite in the opening words of the Amidah,  "Adonai sefatai teeftach ufee yageed teheelaiecha. "Dear God, open our mouths to speak the words of praise. May we learn how to use inflection of our throat in a kind, compassionate and loving way.  Then, it doesn’t matter which mountain we stand on as we recite the Al Cheyt!  

As we join together to offer our words of thanksgiving and repentance this High Holy Day season, may the words of our mouths not only be honest and from the heart, but may they may be received with the utmost respect, in return, by the One who “writes us” into the “Sefer Hachachim,” the Book of Life. 

May we continue to laugh through life when we read the Yiddish curses.  While we understand that life is filled with blessings and curses, let us hope for each other that we may find blessing in the year to come, not only for ourselves and our loved ones, but for  all of our world. 

 Shabbat Shalom.

 Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782