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Parasha Ki Tavo: The Blessing in Being a Blessing

Ki Tavo (When You Enter)
Deuteronomy 26:1–29:9 (8); Isaiah 60:1–22; 1 Peter 2:1–25

“When you have entered [ki tavo] the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance … take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket.  Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for His name.”  (Deuteronomy 26:1–2) 

Shavuot-Israeli-child-fruit-vegetables-basket

An Israeli girl with a basket of fruit and vegetables.

Last week, in Parasha Ki Tetze, God gave to the Israelites 74 of the 613 commandments found in the Torah—far more than any other Torah portion.

These laws mostly seem to be concerned with protecting the weaker members of society.  They include laws concerning the beautiful captive, paying workers in a timely fashion, and leaving a portion of the harvest in the field for the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger.

This week, in Parasha Ki Tavo (When You Enter), God instructs Israel to bring the first-ripened fruits (bikkurim) to the central sanctuary once the Israelites have finally entered the Land He promised to them. 

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Baskets of fruit in an Israeli market.

It must have been a relief for the children of Israel to hear that their prolonged, 40-year journey through the terrible wilderness would finally be coming to an end.  They were about to cross over into the Promised Land.

In fact, the word in Hebrew for a Hebrew, Ivri, comes from the root I-V-R, which means to cross over.  In a spiritual sense, anyone who has crossed over into the Kingdom of God is an Ivri.

For that reason, perhaps, Paul said that being a Jew is a matter of having a circumcised heart more than circumcised flesh.  He wasn’t by any means negating circumcision; he was emphasizing that to cross over into the Kingdom of God, there must be an inward change.  Those who worship God, worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

“But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”  (Romans 2:29)

The wilderness experience was so challenging and defining that future rabbinic texts consider any physical or spiritual desert as an enemy to be overcome.  Our challenge is to walk through the times of wilderness in our lives and be transformed so that we can enter the Promised Land.

Ki Tavo promises that obedience to God will be rewarded.  These rewards include Divine protection, prosperity and blessings on families and future generations.

Crossing the Jordan (Bible Primer, 1919)

Crossing the Jordan (Bible Primer, 1919)

Disobedience and rebellion against God, however, result in punishment; the Word of God lists 98 chilling admonitions that take up half of this Parasha.  These include diseases, plagues, poverty, famine, slavery, and defeat by enemies.

For this reason, Parasha Ki Tavo has been called “the warning chapter,” and the Torah reader, who traditionally chants the Torah portion according to a sing-song pattern, instead rushes through the recital of dreaded curses in a hushed, fearful tone.

We don’t need to look far to see that the Jewish people have been blessed by the Almighty God as He promised; but they have also done more than their fair share of suffering over the centuries due to the curses of the law that come into play because of sin (Deuteronomy 28:15–68).

Teviah, the father in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, expressed this sentiment so humorously after his horse became lame just before the Sabbath: “God, I know that we are Your chosen people, but … couldn’t You choose someone else for a change?”

There are some who follow Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), but believe that it is our lot in life to suffer from these curses along with the rest of the world; however, the Word of God tells us differently.

As covenant children of God, we are to enjoy His blessings on our lives if we are walking in obedience to His commandments.

“But Messiah has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law.  When He was hung on the tree, He took upon Himself the curse for our wrongdoing.”  (Galatians 3:13)

Torah scroll and yad

Torah scroll and yad

Blessings Come from Being a Blessing

One of the first acts of obedience that the Lord asks of His people is to remove the firstfruits of our increase, our tithe, the sacred portion—and to give it to those who serve the Lord, as well as to the poor.

“Then say to the LORD your God: ‘I have removed from My house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all You commanded.’”  (Deuteronomy 26:13)

If we are not obeying this command, then we have little Biblical basis on which to expect God’s blessings on our finances.

God promises that if we obey Him in giving our tithe, He will rebuke the devourer for our sakes and bless our finances.

“Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 3:11)

Tanakh-Malachi-tithe

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all you produce.”  (Proverbs 3:9)

But the reverse holds true as well: if we fail to give to God the “hallowed portion” of our income, then we are breaking covenant by “robbing God.”  When we fail to tithe, we come under a curse and give the devourer free rein to work havoc and destroy our finances.

While Yeshua has removed from us the curse of the law, He has not removed from us the obligation to follow His example by living a holy life.  When we understand that we are walking in sin in some area, we are to repent and return to Him.

By giving our tithe—the holy (kadosh) portion of our income—removing it from our possession, we return to God in so many ways and He returns to us.

“‘Return to Me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty.  But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’  Will a mere mortal rob God?  Yet you rob me.  But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’  In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing Me.”  (Malachi 3:7–9)

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A homeless man in Israel

In Judaism, the giving of tzedakah (charity) is considered such an important mitzvah (commandment) that if someone does not fulfill this law, their lineage actually becomes suspect.

Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who themselves are in need.  Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshiper.

This principle is affirmed also in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), which emphasizes that if we don’t give when we see a brother in material need, it is doubtful that the love of God truly dwells within us.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  (1 John 3:17)

Of course, the Lord rewards compassion and generosity.  He promises that when we give to the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, He will pay us back for what we have given.

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his deed.”  (Proverbs 19:17)

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An elderly Israeli woman begs on the street to help make ends meet.

A Treasured Possession

“And the LORD has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all His commands.  He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations He has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as He promised.”  (Deuteronomy 26:18–19)

The Lord promises Israel in this Parasha that if they keep His commandments, they will be “His treasured possession.”  This promise is also found in Exodus:

“Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation [mamlechet cohanim v’goee kadosh].”  (Exodus 19:5–6)

And although they have experienced many curses over the generations, in the Haftarah (prophetic portion), the prophet Isaiah tells Israel that God in His favor and mercy will one day exalt them even in the midst of much persecution and hatred against them:

“Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, with no one passing through, I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age.”  (Isaiah 60:15)

Israeli pedestrians-Go Israel-Noam Chen

A street in Israel ( Go Israel  photo by  Noam Chen)

In the Brit Chadashah, all followers of Yeshua are called God’s special people. Because of our covenant with the Almighty God through the blood of Yeshua, both Jew and Gentile together can know that they are God’s most treasured possession.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  (1 Peter 2:9)

In Hebrew, the word for special treasure is segulah (סגולה).  The color purple in Hebrew is sagol (סגול), a word that comes from the same root letters.  Why?  Purple is the color of royalty!

As the Lord’s segulah, we are clothed in sagol—the color of royalty.  We are children of the King and He is our Father.  He values and treasures us.  There is no need to search for external or superficial qualifications.  This is simply our identity in the Messiah!

WOW-Torah scroll-Israel-tallit-kippah

Israeli woman prepares to open the Torah scroll.

We might look at ourselves and say, I don’t look much like a treasure; I’m too short or too tall, too fat or too thin, not pretty or smart enough to be a treasure.

We might check in with our emotions and say, I don’t feel that I qualify to be called a treasure of God; I have so many faults and weaknesses—I need to work on keeping my temper; I’m not yet disciplined enough; I don’t witness enough—whatever we perceive to be our weakness.

But as the apostle Paul says, we are to put no confidence in the attributes of our flesh (Philippians 3:3).  Certainly, if anyone could have qualified as a treasure by the certificates on his wall and trophies on his desk, it would have been the apostle Paul, who described himself in this way:

“… circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”  (Philippians 3:5–6)

He considered himself without fault in the flesh and in his keeping of the Torah; yet he put no value on all of these external qualifications.  Instead, he put his trust in the person of the Messiah:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Messiah.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Messiah Yeshua Adonai (my Lord), for whose sake I have lost all things …

“I consider them garbage, that I may gain Messiah and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Messiah—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”  (Philippians 3:7–9)

Torah-bimah

Open Torah scroll

Although Paul continued to keep the law perfectly, he understood that his faultless performance was not to be compared to the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

And while our own performance may not be as flawless as Paul’s, we must accept by faith that if we are empowered to walk in Adonai’s ways by His Spirit and are obedient, then we are in truth His special treasure.

Despite our faults, weaknesses and imperfections, the Lord loves and values us, and we can say, “I am royalty—a child of the King of Kings—the segulah of the Lord—a precious treasure!”

He values us because we are His covenant children and are each created in His image and likeness.  A spark of His divine Shekhinah glory is within us.

If we have a $100 bill and it accidentally drops on the ground, getting soiled, stepped on, crumpled and bent—is it worth any less than $100?  No, it retains its value.

So too is it with us.  Many of us, however, do not understand our value.

Kotel-family-prayer

A Jewish elder prays for two Orthodox Jewish boys at the Western (Wailing) Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Some of us have not always been treated like a treasure.  Perhaps parents, schoolmates, spouses, or fellow Believers have not treated us with honor and respect.  We may have even been abused or mistreated terribly by people, as if we are someone inconsequential.

But God does not see us this way.  Even if we have been broken; even if our heart has been torn in two or our whole life shattered, we are still a beautiful treasure to the Lord—“a crown of beauty and a royal diadem in the hand of our God.”  (Isaiah 62:3)

How do we care for treasures?  We put them in special places and guard them jealously, keeping them in a safe, secure place.  Can we even fathom the grief and wrath that God feels when someone causes one of His segulah to suffer?

We need to leave these injustices and hurts in the hands of the Lord who says He will vindicate us.  Our only choice is to forgive those who have hurt and mistreated us.

newborn baby-father-snuggle

A father sleeps with his newborn on his chest.

Sometimes, when we don’t see ourselves as valuable and worthy of respect, we send signals to others that we are valueless and worthless.  The result often is that will treat us as such.

Or our perception of how others treat us can prevent us from moving forward in God’s promises.  For instance, when the Israelites saw themselves as grasshoppers, they thought that the giants in Canaan did as well!

But when we begin to value and respect ourselves in a balanced and Godly manner, we will find more and more that the people in our lives properly value and esteem us as well.

Part of our healing and recovery is a transformation in the way we see ourselves—knowing our identity in the Messiah as righteous, whole, precious, valuable.  We receive these precious attributes only through His Divine Covenant.

Let us enter into everything that God has for us—our freedom from condemnation, the freedom from the curses, the joy unspeakable, and the peace that passes all understanding.

All these and more have been given to us through the New Covenant, bought with the precious blood of the sinless Lamb of God, Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah)!

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