Parashah (portion) Ki Tavo – Living Extra-Ordinary Lives

Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

I don’t know about you, but I think that the High Holy Days are definitely coming too early this year. After all, we are still in the midst of summer, enjoying barbecues and picnics, and forecasts call for more sun and warm weather. Who has time to focus on repentance or forgiveness when the days are still calling for summer celebration? Who can engage wholeheartedly in an introspective process of soul-searching when everything around us lures us towards outward life-affirming exuberance? It is as if the Universe conspired to make this time even more challenging than usual, to make it nearly impossible for us to really be present to the depth of inner work that the High Holy Days demand of us.

This week’s Torah portion brings this dichotomy into sharp focus. The text includes a series of blessings and curses, of great light and great shadow. Blessings and light will come if we engage in the spiritual work that God places before us; curses and darkness are to befall us if we collapse into an unconscious way of life. However, despite this highly contrasted picture, a verse in the middle of the portion opens it up for a more nuanced interpretation:

If you listen, listen to the voice of the Eternal One your God… (Deut. 28:1)


Our rabbis teach us that when a word is repeated in Torah, its meaning holds special significance. The Midrash – the homiletic commentary on Torah – responds to this doubling of the word “listen” by stating: “Happy is the one whose listenings are to Me…” (Devarim Rabbah 7:2) In truth, God never stops talking. It is we who are unprepared, unavailable, at times to receive and listen to the “voice of the Eternal.” We delineate times when we are to be “spiritual,” and we habitually go unconscious outside of these designated times. Our “listening” tends to only happen during what we define as “holy times.” And it is true that we perk up our ears at these intentional times of listening. Yet there is another type of listening we can practice attuning ourselves to: the listening that reaches us during our most mundane moments. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger (1847-1905,) a Polish Chassidic master, taught that “everything… was created by God’s utterance and has the power of divine speech hidden within it. This is the hidden light that we are told to find.”

God is talking to us at those celebratory summer barbecues, in the midst of the busy-ness of our lives, in every moment, in every conversation, through every emotion and every person. God is talking to us in the brightest of our days, basking in the blessings of our life, when it is so easy to go unconscious. God is calling us, time and again, to remember; to remember who we truly are: a holy being, the very expression of Divine Light itself; to remember, as well, that every moment is an expression of that Divine Light.

And so, maybe the fact that the High Holy Days are so early this year, and that we are so busy having fun, offers us an opportunity to explore the ways we tend to separate the holy from the mundane and to reclaim the holiness of every ordinary moment in our life. Perhaps our inner inventory this year could start with making a list of all our blessings. Our work in preparation for the High Holy Days this year might include becoming more attentive listeners to the Divine Presence, to God’s voice, as we partake of the last of summer’s offerings. When we become available to hear the voice of God permeating the ordinary moments of our life too, then we open ourselves up for living a transformative extra-ordinary life. May this be our New Year resolution for 5771. © 2010 Rabbi Olivier BenHaim, All rights reserved.