Parashat Ki Tavo

Ritual Reinforcement

Through rituals, blessings, and warnings the Children of Israel strengthen their connections to history, land, and God.

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He adds that this ritual, which symbolizes the establishment of a place of worship and of religious instruction for children, has served as a model for the way that a Jewish community should be initiated. It is significant that the Law was to be written and displayed publicly, indicating that it belonged to everyone and that it was each person's responsibility to become familiar with it.

Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy, which is referred to as the Tochechah (warning), outlines the consequences of following or ignoring the laws. It includes a jarring view of the horrific calamities that will befall the Jewish people if the laws are not followed. Why is it necessary to describe these detailed, disturbing consequences? Is the intention to motivate through fear? If so, what's the impact of this type of motivation?

We all know that there are times when encouragement and reward alone don't ensure that certain patterns of behavior will be maintained. However, one pays a psychological price for relying upon negative incentives--and the parashah leaves me wondering at the effectiveness of this method. Some balance is provided by the six blessings that proceed the warnings, but a glance at the text devoted to each--14 verses of blessings, 53 of warnings--leaves no doubt about where the emphasis is placed. This imbalance provides "food for thought when" one considers that many have suggested that we're a people that responds more to crises than well-being. Unfortunately, fear sometimes is a necessary incentive.

Through every component of the ritual described in the parashah's first two chapters, then, connections are made among the Jewish People's history, its relationship with G-d, and its connection to the Land of Israel. The last section (the blessings and warnings) focuses on solidifying the desire to observe all of the laws and therefore reinforces these connections.

We are near the culmination of the forty-year journey. May our own journeys bring us as vivid a connection to our people's history, to the Land, and with the Almighty.

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Lyn Light Geller is the Educational Coordinator of United Jewish Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.