Transitions and Israel

As a people, wherever the Jews are, we have a remarkable and noble mission.

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This is to be immediately followed by an expression of awareness of past suffering-not necessarily one's own, but that of the collective. Remembrance of things past is an essential part of developing a new identity, beginning a new existence. The formulation of this memory in the First Fruits ceremony, with its reference to the "fugitive" or "wandering Aramean" (26:5), surely stirs within the modern reader recollections of the trials and tribulations of Jews in the Diaspora, which culminated in the unprecedented horrors of the Holocaust.

The purpose of these recollections is to stimulate us to behave differently from those who oppressed us--to give to "the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill" (26:12). Being the favored of God entails duties and responsibilities. Failure to observe is to be cursed; obedience brings blessings, prosperity, fruitfulness. Above all, doing God's bidding means that Israel will be established as "God's holy people" (28:9) and will be "the head, not the tail" (28:13). In contrast, the detailed, terrifyingly graphic list of horrors that will be heaped upon the people if they fail to abide by God's laws ends with perhaps the direst of warnings: to be scattered among ail the peoples "from one end of the earth to another" (28:64) and, worst of all, to become slaves once again (28:68). The message of parashat Ki Tavo applies to us even now, whether we live in Israel or in the Diaspora. To justify Israel's existence as a Jewish state and homeland, it must forever strive to be a "light unto the nations" and not a state like any other. As a people, wherever we are, we have a remarkable and noble mission to fulfill God's precepts, whether they deal with ourselves and our relationship to the Divine or--more concretely--with our relationships with our fellow human beings, all of whom have been created in the divine image.

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Alice Shalvi

Alice Shalvi is Israel's most outspoken and active Conservative Jewish feminist. Shalvi founded the Israel Women's Network in 1984, serving as its director until 1997. The organization has effected legal change--particularly in the workplace--and is taking aim at issues concerning women's health, battered women and rape.