What is Secret--Ki Tavo


This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tavo.  We are nearing the end of the reading of the Torah, a cycle that we will renew on Simchat Torah as we read the last words of the book of Deuteronomy and immediately begin with the first words of Genesis “B’reishit  barah Eloheem et haShamayim v’et ha Aretz:  In the beginning of God’s creating God created the heavens and the land.”


Torah as we understand it today are the words that we read weekly and all of the thoughtful interpretation of the words on the page.  To read it on what is known as the surface, or p’shat level is to only understand it in the most limited way.  We call it the Aytz Chayim, a tree of life, because everytime we engage with Torah we are able to discern from our engagement ways to apply to our contemporary lives.  After centuries of interpretations, it is ours to interpret now.


When this is read in its entirety, the blessings are read out loud, while the curses are read quietly, as if to say, “We know it is here, but we do not want any of this to happen to us, please.”


Many of the curses may be compared to the small print from Apple or any other company with whom you sign an agreement.  The part you fill out, you read.  All that small type, well, if you are like me you mostly ignore it.  You want to be on your way.


Still, the curses are there.


One of the ways that Torah creates a new moral code for humanity, especially the Jewish people, is reminding us that what is done in secret to harm others or ourselves, that only we know, is cursed.  


As I have heard from people who are in 12-step programs you are only as sick as your worst secret.


A Hasidic master is quoted in Itturei Torah, a compendium of thoughts about Torah that “All curses refer to secret transgression.  For public offenders there is hope of repentance; for hypocrites, there is none.”


This is an important concept that we should internalize as we rapidly approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.


When we do something that others see, there is the potential for repentance, that is, we are in a position to apologize for what we have done, and, if necessary, make restitution or amends.


But what happens when we do something only known to you, and we imagine God or whatever you call your “Higher Power” knowing as well.


What then?


How do we curse ourselves, acting in hypocritical ways, if we cannot reveal our own secrets to ourselves and to others?


What is stunning about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that you have plenty of time now and during the month of Tishri to come to think about these, deeply.  You have the opportunity to ask yourself why you do what you do even when you know it is not good for you--or others.  If you take the leap--and imagine that God knows your secrets, does that help catalyze you to do something about them?  


One reason that when we do the Vidui, the confessional, time and again during Yom Kippur, we do it in the first person plural, the we of Hebrew, because Judaism does not ever want you to be singled out, to be embarrassed.  Yet as you see the words in the short and long confessionals go by, if you are like me, you’ll think about your own life and how you live it.  


You will bring to your own light the understanding that no matter where you are you cannot outrun yourself.  


And in this light you are giving yourself the opportunity to at a minimum acknowledge that what you have done damaged you--or others--or your understanding of your relationship with God.


So this is my invitation to all of us:  turn the light on.  


Examine yourself. . .not for punishment, heaven forfend.  Rather for you to use this time to think about what you do in secret and whether this reflects your values as a human being, as a Jew, as a person who cares about yourself and the people and world around you.


Then you have the potential to come into reconciliation with this part of you to lead a fuller life, a life based on shleimut, of wholeness.

© 2017- 2019

Rabbi David Novak