CCAR Newsletter July/August 2021 - 4

Voices of Torah
Ki Teitzei
Readers familiar with the Book of Ruth may
be surprised to read the commandment against
marrying Moabites in Deuteronomy 23:4: An
Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the
assembly of Adonai. How could King David be
descended from a forbidden marriage?
The Sages struggled with this text and its apparent
conflict with the Book of Ruth, especially since
the prohibition is reinforced by Nehemiah: At
that time they read to the people from the Book of
Moses, and it was found written that no Ammonite
or Moabite might ever enter the congregation of
God, since they did not meet Israel with bread and
water, and hired Balaam against them to curse
them; but our God turned the curse into a blessing
(Nehemiah 13:1-2).
The Sages resolve the issue in M. Y'vamot 8:3,
ruling that the prohibition is only against
Moabite men converting or marrying a Jewish
woman; Moabite women are permitted to
convert. The Gemara elaborates with a story
about an Edomite who suggested to Saul that
David may not be fit even to be part of the
community of Israel, since he descends from
Ruth the Moabite. Saul's general, Abner, replies
that the prohibition applies only to males,
because women stay in the house when men go
out to meet strangers (BT Y'vamot 76b).
At every point in Jewish history, there is someone
warning against converts in general or against
a particular convert. As a giyoret myself, I take
comfort in knowing that there have also been, in
every age, people speaking up for us.
Parashat Ki Tavo
As soon as the Israelites cross the Jordan River and enter Eretz Yisrael, with half the tribes arrayed on Mount
Gerizim and half the tribes stand on Mount Ebal, blessings and curses, the divine consequence for their human
behavior, are pronounced in a dramatic ceremony. The curses enumerate specific violations, except for the last,
Cursed by the one who will not uphold the terms of this Teaching and observe them (Deuteronomy 27:26), which
seems to demand complete compliance.
In BT Sanhedrin 111a, R. Shimon b. Lakish asserts that Sheol has enlarged itself and opened its mouth livli
chok (without measure) (Isaiah 5:14) refers to one who has failed to fulfill even one chok (statute) of
Torah. R. Yochanan disagrees, maintaining that learning one chok is sufficient to earn one a place in the
In the same discussion, R. Chanina b. Gamla recounts that when Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai,
he ascended to heaven and saw God writing, " Slow-to-Anger. " " Is this only for the righteous? " Moses asked.
God replied, " For the wicked, as well. " Moses snapped back, " Let the wicked be obliterated! " God warned him,
" In time, you will need this. "
And indeed, when Israel sinned in response to the report of the spies, Moses implored God to forgive the
people. God said to Moses, " Did you not say to Me that Slow-to-Anger should be for the righteous alone? "
Our tradition teaches us to temper the human proclivity to judge others harshly with God's proclivity to find
merit in us and forgive.
Concealed things concern Adonai our God; but with revealed things, it is for us and for our children forever to fulfill
all the words of this Teaching (Deuteronomy 29:28). In chumashim and tikkunim, an array of ten dots appears
over " for us and for our children " and just one over " forever " (with variants in various manuscripts), serving
as a visual siren signaling that the Masoretes found the verse enigmatic or problematic. What are the nistarot
(concealed things) and the niglot (revealed things), and what do the dots tell us?
Many interpretations have been proposed: Avot D'Rabbi Natan (B, 98) speculates that some things are
concealed to us until " forever, " which is the world-to-come, when the " concealed " will finally be " revealed. " In
the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43b), R. Y'hudah explains that God did not punish the Israelites for hidden
sins until they entered Eretz Yisrael. How does venue effect responsibility? Midrash Mishlei 26 reads the dots as
God's rebuke that Israel will be unable to keep even that which is revealed, let alone that which is concealed.
Other interpretations are that God punishes sins committed in secret, but society must respond to those
committed openly; or that we should avoid judging others' motives, for God alone see into the heart, while we
see only the deed. The Ostrovtser rebbe, Meir Yechiel HaLevi, taught that while anonymous tzaddikim delight
God, the community needs visible role models of righteousness to teach and inspire them.
Shivim panim laTorah (seventy faces of Torah; B'midbar Rabbah 13:14-15) indeed!
Rosh HaShanah
What does it mean to live a successful life? At this time of year, we focus on repentance and moral selfimprovement,
but the proclivity to engage in a broader self-evaluation is rarely far behind. I find myself returning
time and again to Ben Zoma's astounding paradoxical pearl in Pirkei Avot 4:1. Ben Zoma identifies core dreams
and goals of many people: wisdom, might, wealth, and honor. To acquire them, we should not pursue them. To

CCAR Newsletter July/August 2021

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