Ki Tavo and the Limits of Human Control

Shabbat Shalom From Rabbi Klayman
September 7, 2017 16 Elul 5777

Ki Tavo and the Limits of Human Control

The catastrophic Henry had barely abated when Irma came along with unprecedented fury. As I write, it appears that Irma will conquer southern Florida; leaving a path of unspeakable devastation. These two storms are most frightening for two reasons. The obvious reason is that they caused massive property damage and-tragically-some loss of life. The second reason is that they are unpredictable and operate beyond human control. As much as we humans have an insatiable lust for financial, political or social power; these formidable storms expose our mortality. Harvey and Irma defy human comprehension; they humble us and by virtue of their devastating effects humiliate us as well. In light of Harvey and Irma; we, who are self-proclaimed giants and power mongers in our selected professions are symbolically reduced to stubble.

Hurricanes and other natural phenomena call attention to human limitations. They remind us how even in the best and most successful of times; we cannot claim ultimate control over all aspects of our lives and our environment. They also remind us how throughout our lives there are moments when we should acknowledge our limitations and reach out to other people for assistance, guidance and support. If there is any positive value we can embrace after a natural disaster, it is the value of cherishing community. Even when we are primarily responsible for personal success; our success does not develop in a vacuum. We are often the product of many hands-past and present- which contribute to the lives we presently enjoy.

The opening theme of Ki Tavo may not address calamities on the scale of a hurricane; but it does call attention to all the variables which contribute to our lives and to our successes. Ki Tavo begins with a unique ritual to mark the first fruits of our produce. Farmers would take their new produce to Jerusalem. Upon arrival, these pilgrims engaged in a ceremony to give thanks for their bounty. The ceremony included four sentences; which were eventually incorporated into our Passover Seder. The pilgrims acknowledged God, the land, and the previous generations of Jews; who struggled and labored to create conditions which enable the present generation to enjoy what they reaped. Through their declaration, farmers and their families paid homage to their God and to their past history. They expressed how the land they presently own and till is a land they share with past, present and future generations of Am Yisrael. The ritual of first fruits insured that these farmers will continue to live with humility and with the daily acknowledgment of all who contributed to their present day success.

We cannot control the tragedies and disasters which strike with fury. We can however, always be mindful of all the people who have contributed-and presently contribute- to the lives we enjoy today.

Shabbat Shalom!