Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Parshat Ki Tavo has the Hebrews on the cusp of arriving to the Promised Land. Moses continues to review the important lessons and he tells the people,
"As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Teaching. When you cross over to enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you—
upon crossing the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you this day, on Mount Ebal, and coat them with plaster. There, too, you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones. Do not wield an iron tool over them; you must build the altar of the LORD your God of unhewn stones. You shall offer on it burnt offerings to the LORD your God, and you shall sacrifice there offerings of well-being and eat them, rejoicing before the LORD your God. And on those stones you shall inscribe every word of this Teaching most distinctly."
There are so many things to remember, important lessons to learn and abundant blessings for those who obey and abundant curses for those who do not obey.
This poem, looks forward from the entrance to the Land until the present day and illustrates how we collectively have remembered our roots. How is this connected to the blessings and the curses?
The Blessings and the Curses
You were born in Egypt to slaves,
only to be freed.
You were born in a desert in a tent,
destined to wander.
You were born in the land and you brought sacrifices.
You fought wars and learned to be a people.
Twice you were expelled from that land
and you never forgot that you were a Jew.
You were born in Babylonia
and you mourned the dispersion,
but you built a life there
You became the master of Galut.
You were born in the lands of the east.
You were shepherds and farmers and artisans
You lived among others,
their customs there for you to see
and yet, you prayed facing Jerusalem.
And you wandered.
Even if you wanted to forget your origins
they never forgot that you were a Jew.
You were persecuted and scorned.
You fled from land to land
Violence and bloodshed followed you
Your children were never safe.
You were accused.
You were needlessly hated,
but still you prayed,
your fringes in your hands.
And you hoped to return
as you closed your eyes and kissed those fringes
and you remembered.
You lived far away from
the land promised you
but the memory of your land did not fade.
You prayed it.
You ate it.
You sang it.
You celebrated it.
You mourned it.
You lived it and you hoped it.
And although you lived scattered in many lands,
you did not forgot where you came from.
You slipped from land to land.
Your customs changed,
but you didn’t forget
From the ghetto to the kasbah you didn’t forget.
From France, from the Germanic lands you remembered.
And when you were accused falsely you remembered.
And when you had no one but yourselves to rely upon you remembered.
And during the Crusades through blood you remembered.
And through the rack of the Inquisition you remembered
that once you were in Egypt and were brought
to the safety of the Promised Land.
And you prayed for redemption, for the Mashiach to come
and for your return.
And when you were expelled and fled like mice
from land to land you were forced to remember where you came from.
And in the ghettos of Eastern Europe you remembered as synagogues burned.
And during pogroms you remembered as they chased you,
as you died.
Al kiddush HaShem,
for being who you are,
And you remembered.
when you hunkered in caves,
when frozen in hiding spots underground you had plenty of time to remember.
When you were starving you remembered.
When your parents were murdered you remembered.
And in the shuks of the east and the Mellah of Fez and the mountains of Isfahan
and the villages of Yemen, and the plains of Ethiopia
When you wore the star on your clothing you remembered.
You remembered as you kissed your mezuza,
You remembered as you lifted the Torah
You remembered in DP camps.
You remembered when you saw the tattoo branded on your arm.
You remembered on the frozen tundras of Siberia
and as you fled to countries that didn't want you and sent you back to hell.
All the time you remembered.
You remembered as you entered NY Harbor and saw the outstretched arms of the statue.
And you remembered as you met someone from your town far away
that you are one family of Jews.
You remembered when you were excluded and ridiculed.
You remembered even when you longed with all your heart to forget.
You remembered as you fled Syria, Iran, Morocco and Egypt with forged passports
and as you fled through mountains and deserts.
You remembered when you bribed officials and when you finally arrived to the Promised Land and you kissed the ground beneath you.
And you remember each time a war is fought in Israel.
When you read the news, when a synagogue is vandalized
you know you are a Jew.
You know you are not alone, but you know that you are so alone
when you are a Jew.
You do not forget.
And you remember when your child is brought to the Torah and chants the blessings
And you walk your child to the chuppah.
And when we gather,
when we eat bagels and chicken soup.
Even in suburbia we do not forget.
We will not forget that we are Jews.
And if we slip and we begin to forget
we know that others will always remember that we are Jews.
We are all Jews and we remember.
"You shall then recite as follows before the LORD your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation." Deuteronomy 26:5