Ki Tavo

Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

(When You Enter)
This portion describes two rituals that the Israelites are commanded to perform when they enter the Land: the ritual of the first fruits, and the ritual of ratification of the Covenant.

THE BLESSING

THERE IS A TIMELESS MOMENT called “Enlightenment,” that we experience as a beacon shining forth and piercing right through our constructed reality, calling us to awaken, inspiring us to expand beyond imposed boundaries of identity. That timeless moment is our inheritance. It is the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.

Ki Tavo means “when you enter.” It describes two amazing rituals enacted in that timeless moment of enlightenment. These sacred ceremonies are performed in “ritual space,” which is a kind of dream-time, so that their power and blessing can enter our ordinary waking consciousness. When God-the-Beloved says to us in the Song of Songs, “Honey and milk are under your tongue,” (Song of Songs 4:11) he is reminding us that the Promised Land is so very close. It is there for the tasting whenever we are willing to “enter in” and be intimate with Life. The power of that intimacy is shown to us through an act of ritual. The blessing of ritual-work is that it underlines and thus activates what we already know to be true. It reminds us of that truth we have forgotten amid the clutter, distraction and busyness of our lives.

THE FIRST OF THESE RITUALS holds such a clear imprint of the Freedom of enlightened consciousness that it is recited as part of the Haggadah each year at the Passover Seder — our celebration of Freedom.

We are instructed to do this ritual “when we enter the Land,” when we experience that state of enlightened expansion of consciousness. We gather up the first fruits — the deliciousness and nurturance, even the terror of those experiences — and bring them before God. On our spiritual journey we move through many states of consciousness. Experiences come and go. It is only when we bring awareness to those states (laying their fruit before God) that we can fully receive their blessing and benefit. It is not enough to enter the land. We must bear witness to the miracle of the journey and acknowledge the One who brings us out of slavery, guides us through the wilderness and opens the way to expanded awareness. When the flow from God opens up for us, we are instructed to bring an offering, to return that gift to its source. The flow then becomes circular and we are blessed, purified and made transparent by it.

When engaged in ecstatic practice, the Divine flow opens up and spills into and through us. This moment of blessing is also a danger if we ignore the instruction of Ki Tavo. When the gifts of ecstasy are merely consumed, without giving anything in return, the false-self (or surface identity) is fortified and every experience of spiritual “high” decorates and glorifies that fortification. To prevent this, we are taught that the moment of receiving must be transformed into a moment of offering. Our ritual of offering is a way of acknowledging a truth that can sometimes be obscured. The truth is that our bounty comes from God, and we can connect ourselves to the Source as we receive Her gifts. That connection is even more precious than the gift itself.

The blessing of Ki Tavo is the connection that happens when we offer up the “first fruits” — those flashes of joy or insight that come to us in practice.

THE SECOND RITUAL that is commanded describes a magnificent landscape — a valley surrounded by two great mountains. Six tribes are positioned on one mountain and six on the other. The Levites, arranged around the ark in the center of the valley, alternately call out blessings and curses to the people on opposing mountains who respond with a rousing, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:11-26)

That awesome scene described in Ki Tavo is a rare view into the inner landscape of enlightened consciousness. When we stand as Levites in the valley of enlightenment, it becomes so clear and obvious what it is that blesses our existence, and connects us with our Divine inheritance, and what it is that curses us, thus separating us from that inheritance. Our normal state of consciousness in contrast, feels like stumbling through the fog, our inner landscape shrouded in bewilderment. As the mists of confusion clear, the blessing and the curse of our lives rise up like mountains, and in the valley between we sing, “Amen.”

In Midrash Raba, Rabbi Judah son of Sima said, “Amen contains three kinds of solemn declaration: oath, consent, and confirmation.” (Midrash Raba, Deuteronomy 7:1) The blessing of Ki Tavo enters us when we say, “Amen!” to that moment of enlightenment, that taste of milk and honey. With the saying of “Amen,” we make an oath to be moved by the force of that moment; we consent to its power and confirm its reality.

THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE

THE TIMELESS MOMENT of enlightenment, of entering through the doorway to the Promised Land, is shown to us through Ritual and through the Shaarei Tzedek, the “Gates of Justice.”

The first spiritual challenge of Ki Tavo is learning how to enter “ritual space,” how to step outside of Time and access the “Eternal Now” of mythic truth that includes, and yet transcends, our ordinary daily rhythms. The obstacles at the doorway to “ritual space” are cynicism, self-consciousness and the drab, solemn decorum that has so often masqueraded as ritual.

True ritual is serious work, yet cannot be accomplished without a twinkle in the eye. It is holy play, solemn joy. True ritual can be powerful enough to change our perception of Reality, put us face to face with Death… and yet there is a certain unmistakable lightness in it that keeps us just at the edge of laughter.

RITUAL REQUIRES both inner and outer preparation. The inner preparation allows us to set aside the narrow version of “self,” and step into the persona of High Priest or Levitical singer. The outer preparation for ritual involves a complete dedication of the physical realm to the fulfillment of a spiritual purpose. All of the elements — Earth, Water, Fire, and Air (and the aspects of Life they represent) — become our allies. Using our imagination and aesthetic sensibilities concerning color, fragrance, music, and drama, we engage the senses in service to the purpose of a particular ritual.

After all the preparation is completed, the spiritual challenge of ritual is to remain open to the unexpected, the unplanned, and to receive the soul’s wisdom. That wisdom and inspiration can then be embodied and integrated onto our everyday lives.

OFTEN WHEN WE STUDY TORAH, we separate the writings about ritual from the parts that legislate justice… but in the text they are interwoven. No distinction is made between the commandment to enact ritual and the decree for Justice. Between the two great rituals of Ki Tavo, we are given another doorway to the Promised Land. It is the doorway of Justice.

Pitchu-li
Sha’arei Tzedek
Avovam OdehYah
(Psalm 118:19)

(Open for me
the gates of Justice
I will enter them and thank God.)

AFTER THE RITUAL OFFERING of the First Fruits, we are commanded to give a special tithe to benefit the Levite, the refugee, the widow, and the orphan. Elsewhere in Torah when we have given tithes, it has always been in lieu of taxes or gifts for the maintenance of the Sanctuary and its Priests. This tithe is different. It is given purely in the name of Justice, to benefit those who have been disconnected from the wealth of the land.

To receive the milk and honey of the Promised Land, to enter into its mystery, we must share the wealth with those who have none.

The spiritual challenge of Ki Tavo is to enter through the gates of Justice by opening our eyes and hearts to the disenfranchised and sharing with them generously the riches we have been given.

GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE

A Ritual for Entering the Land

PREPARATION: Gather together a small group (or even just one spirit-buddy to act as your priest or priestess). Build an altar at the center of your Holy Space and decorate the space with fruit, flowers and a special box for Tzedakah. Each person prepares a basket and fills it with symbols of their prosperity. (Examples: a dollar to represent material wealth, a book to symbolize knowledge, pictures of family and friends to remember the treasure of our relationships, and so forth.) Also, decide on a charity that benefits some disenfranchised population (such as refugees, the homeless, or the hungry) and set aside some money as Tzedakah. (Tzedakah: literally, “Righteousness,” but colloquially — as here — Charity) Prepare a meal that includes milk and honey to share afterwards.

BEGIN BY CHANTING TOGETHER:

P’tach libi
(Open my heart!)

EVERYONE: “Open our hearts that we may enter the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey!”

PRIEST/PRIESTESS: “And it shall be, when you come in to the Land that YUDHEYVAVHEY, Your God, is giving to you as an inheritance, that you shall gather the first fruits, set them in a basket and bring them to this chosen place.”

EACH PILGRIM STEPS UP TO ALTAR AND SAYS: “I declare today to YUDHEYVAVHEY my God, in the presence of these witnesses and the witness of Heaven and Earth, I have come into the Land of Promise. These are the fruits of my Life.” (Based on Deuteronomy 26:10) Show and explain what is in your basket.

THE PRIEST/PRIESTESS takes the basket and places it before the altar.

AFTER EACH OFFERING everyone chants:

For in joy will you go out,
In peace be led across the Land,
Mountains and hills will burst into song,
And the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Ki v-simcha tate-tzay-oo,
Oo-v-shalom toovaloon.
(Isaiah 55:12)

WHEN EVERYONE HAS GIVEN their offering, the Priest holds up the Tzedakah box and says: “When you have collected the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, to the refugee, to the orphan, and to the widow. All who are hungry will eat and be satisfied within your gates.”

THE BOX IS PASSED AROUND and everyone puts in their tithe.

PRIEST/PRIESTESS: “We ask for Your blessing as You gaze upon us from above, from the heights of the Heavens and support us from below, from the depths of this Holy Earth. Bless us as we enter the Land of our lives, the Land You have given us, a Land flowing with milk and honey.”

THE RITUAL CONCLUDES WITH A SACRED MEAL. Include foods that contain milk and honey.


Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.