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ובחרת בחיים - And You Should Choose Life

By: Rachel Himelstein

This week in Israel has been about making important choices. Which party to vote for? Which combination of parties will create the government? Who will be Prime Minister? Will it be a right or left wing government? The country went back to the ballots this Tuesday for another general election, only a few months after PM Binyamin Netanyahu was unsuccessful in forming a government.

This week's Parsha, Ki Tavo, focuses on making choices that directly affect our lives in Eretz Yisrael. The Torah spells out clearly the consequences of our decisions. If we choose to keep the mitzvot - we are choosing a life of bracha. If we engage in activities that the Torah forbids we have chosen to remove ourselves from ratzon Hashem and inherent to that choice lies klala.

It is especially pertinent that this message follows the earlier parshiot of Sefer Devarim.  Rav Aviner in Tal Hermon shows that the first three parshiot of Devarim describe the foundations of emuna; the following three list the mitzvot on a national, social and individual level; and Ki Tavo  continues with entering the land and becoming a nation. If Sefer Devarim is Moshe`s farewell speech, then Parshat Ki Tavo is the moment Am Yisrael becomes a nation.

והיה כי תבוא אל הארץ אשר ה' אלקיך נתן לך נחלה וירשת וישבת בה (דברים כו:א)

“And it will be when you enter the land…”(Devarim 26:1)

The word, "vehaya" denotes simcha, joy, upon entering the land (Ohr HaChaim). Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael is a joyous partnership. The journey through the desert has come to an end, and Moshe Rabeinu is addressing the people as a new fledgling nation, establishing their foundations.

Am Yisrael is reishit and the first fruits of Eretz Yisrael are similarly kadosh. The opening psukim discuss the ceremony that the farmer will carry out when he brings the Bikkurim to the Kohen. The kesher of the Am and the Aretz is represented by the produce of the land, a sign that the nation is keeping the mitzvot.

The declaration read by the farmer as he gives his first fruits to the Kohen is read at the Seder night in the Haggadah. How does this connect? In both cases the individual is seeing himself within the context of the klal, rather than perceiving himself as an individual. In the Seder and in the Mikdash we acknowledge that we are part of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. Sivan Rahav–Meir calls this the fig speech! Instead of just biting into a juicy fruit from one’s orchard, the farmer is called upon by the Torah to tie a string on the first fruit to remind him that this is the Bikkurim, which must go to the Kohen. The farmer declares that it is not just his personal toil that has produced this fruit. The land is from Hashem, and his fig is a link in the history of Am Yisrael that began in Egypt, leading to Eretz Yisrael.

This national connection neatly ties in the next few psukim that deal with ma`asrot. We have an opportunity to care for others using the land’s produce, feeding the Ger, the orphan, the widow, and the Levi. The joy of being a people in our land is further enhanced when we are giving to others and taking responsibility for each other.

A collective attitude advocates mutual responsibility. The nation is commanded to recite blessings and curses on Har Grizim and Har Eival, and to write the Torah on stones upon their entry to the land. This collective experience reminds us of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai; the writing on the stones creates a permanent impact. As a group, the people are aware and eternally bound to the acceptance of the Torah.  Rav Tabory zt’l (in The Weekly Mitzva) quotes Rav Perlow to explain that the specific mitzva here is the concept of Arevut. When Am Yisrael received the Torah at Har Sinai, they accepted the obligations as individuals. Those individuals had mostly died out in the desert.  Only when they entered the Land of Israel did they truly become united into a single nation. This nation is being commanded to keep the mitzvot and be warned not to act in ways that would cause the people to be cursed.

Hearing the voices of thousands of people echo the words of Moshe with a resounding “Amen” must have left a tremendous impression on those standing there - a confirmation of mutual responsibility, and a legacy to Moshe Rabenu. As a nation they show Arevut to one another.

"וידבר משה והכהנים הלוים אל כל ישראל לאמר הסכת ושמע ישראל היום הזה נהיית לעם לה' אלוקך" (דברים כו:ט)

Moshe and the Levite Priests spoke to all Israel saying, “Pay attention and listen, O Israel! This day you have become a nation to the Lord, your G-d” (Devarim 26:9)

What does “this day” signify? Sivan Rahav-Meir quotes Rashi: Before he died, Moshe handed his Sefer Torah to the tribe of Levi, which caused discontentment among the people. The people claimed that they had all received the Torah at Har Sinai; the Torah belonged to everyone - not just to Shevet Levi. This actually was a moment of joy for Moshe, for their complaint expressed their own claim on the Torah. This demonstrates that the people have become a nation desiring a connection with Hashem. They don’t want the Torah to belong to a select group. The people who bitterly complained in the midbar against Moshe have demonstrated their absolute commitment.

To choose life; to keep mitzvot; to take responsibility for Am Yisrael is part of our eternal connection to Hashem and to His land. Am Yisrael finally voted clearly that they “wanted in” with the Torah, together with an Arevut for one another.

The results of the elections will be known before this Shabbat, and we daven that tomorrow's leaders will learn lessons from the Parsha as they take on the mantle of responsibility.


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