Parashat Ki Tavo: The Deuteronomy Dinner Party: As Many Chairs as We Need

Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as 
parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the Torah Queeries online collection, which was inspired by the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. This week, Marisa James discusses how the Biblical injunction to care for the vulnerable applies to today’s LGBT Jews. This week’s Torah Queeries essay was written in 2007.

Creative Common/Toby Simkin

Creative Common/Toby Simkin

As we read Parashat Ki Tavo, we’re also in the midst of the Haftorot of Consolation, which we read every week from Tisha B’Av until the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. We’re also about half-way through the month of Elul, which precedes the beginning of our new year. We are threatened with punishment; we are consoled; we are expected to recite every day of this month our wish to dwell peacefully in the house of God. There’s a lot on our plates, and I know I find it difficult to stay focused on the Parashah or my preparations for the High Holidays when there are such fierce and competing emotions battering me from all sides.

This week we read in Ki Tavo about the punishments that will come if we do not follow the laws of the Torah exactly. To console us after the lists of harsh punishments, we read in the book of Isaiah the Haftorah, which promises us that God doesn’t really mean it, that we are, in fact, the chosen people, who will inherit good days to come. Isaiah has a beautiful vision for us this week, telling us that the day will come when “The cry ‘Violence!’ shall no more be heard in your land, nor ‘Wrack and ruin!’ within your borders. […] The smallest shall become a clan; the least, a mighty nation.” (Isaiah 60:18, 22)

Fifty years ago this week, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. about his dreams. In the midst of the civil rights movement, King did not hope that one day Kenyan or Haitian or Jamaican children would be free; he dreamt of a day when all black people, and all people, would be free. King looked beyond the limits of his own community to dream that “we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children — black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics — will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”