Shabbat Ki Tavo 5776
Is jealousy ever a good thing? After all, the Torah is pretty harsh about the sin of covetousness, even mentioning it on some Top Ten commandment lists.
The rabbis spin stories to emphasize humility. The moon complained that the sun was getting too much credit, so God made its light weaker than that of her competitor. Too many mountains thought they were worthy of being the place where the Torah was given, so God chose Sinai, which was nothing more than a stunted hilltop. God could have called to Moshe from any variety of beautiful plants, but chose to be revealed in a thorn bush. The apparent message of these homilies is clear: don’t be jealous; be humble.
All this makes one of Rashi’s comments on this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tavo, all the more fascinating. Moshe addresses Israel with a bit of a shot at their capacity to recognize God’s goodness. “You have seen all that the LORD did before your very eyes in the land of Egpyt…the wondrous feats that you saw with your own eyes, those prodigious signs and marvels. Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deuteronomy 29:1-3). Let’s see what Rashi, that great 11th-century commentator, had to say about this passage:
“I heard that was the very day that Moshe gave the book of the Torah to the tribe of Levi (see 31:9). The rest of the Israelites said: ‘Moshe our teacher, we also stood at Sinai, we also received the Torah, and it was given to us, too! So why are you favoring the members of your own tribe by giving it to them, that they might soon say to us that it was only given to them and not to us?'”
That certainly sounds like jealousy, even whining about perceived nepotism. Sour grapes don’t win people over; it’s hard to win a claim when you complain. Now I won’t finish the midrashhere; we’ll look at it Shabbat morning. But the story, as it turns out, has a great message for us as Jews, particularly as we enter the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise