Ki Tavo

“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Tavo 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

 “Inspiration, Empowerment and a Stolen Shofar

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 Parshat Ki Tavo / Elul

“Inspiration, Empowerment and a Stolen Shofar”

We find ourselves right before Rosh Hashana, and there is a very interesting halakha regarding the shofar:

הגוזל שופר ותקע בו יצא…

Normally, we do not allow the use of a stolen object to fulfill a mitzvah. Nevertheless, if you steal a shofar and you hear that sound, it’s obviously not the best sound that you can hear on Rosh Hashana – no one wants to hear a sound on Rosh Hashana from a stolen shofar – but if that’s the sound that I hear, I still fulfill my obligation. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 586:2)

Why is this? Because of the halakhic principle of

אין בקול דין גזל

There is no such thing as stealing a sound. (Maimonides, Laws of Shofar, Sukkah and Lulav 1:3)

Yet there is another interesting halakha that states:

המתעסק בתקיעת שופר להתלמד לא יצא ידי חובתו וכן השומע מן המתעסק לא יצא

If I’m walking by a person’s yard or a person’s home, and a person is practicing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, and I hear 100 blasts from his practicing, I do not fulfill my obligation. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 589:8)

Why is it that I can fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the sound of the shofar blasts via a stolen shofar, but not if I hear a person practicing with a pristine shofar on Rosh Hashana?

I believe that the underlying message is that Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the process of re-engaging with God.

We are trying to find our own sound, and there will always be something that is not perfect about our sound when we begin to create a relationship with God.

It will never be fully authentic.

Every one of us on Rosh Hashana is not fully engaged yet – it’s the beginning of the process.

As much as we try, and as hard as we work beforehand, a stolen sound still works, because all of us – even with the most pristine shofar – have a little bit of a stolen sound in our psyche, in our essence, we’re just not there yet.

But we have to try. We have to work hard. Therefore, we cannot fulfill the mitzvah via a shofar sounded not in order to inspire and empower us, but rather sounded for practice, because it must be a shofar sound intended to inspire the people around him.

It must be a shofar sound committed to trying to make a difference.

As we begin the process of Rosh Hashana, let us work to realize that it is okay if our spiritual sound is not completely authentic.

At the same time, it cannot be that we are in a state of “מתעסק” / practicing; that we are just in a state of a robotic routine.

Instead, we have to work hard to find a new energy, a new music in our relationship to God, in our relationship to our families, and really in our relationship to ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva v’Chatima Tova.


Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “When you come to the land which the Lord your God gives to you as an inheritance and you inherit it…. You shall take from the first of all the fruits of the earth which you shall bring from …

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 Parshat Ki Tavo – Maaser and Truma: Declaring our Avodat Hashem Devora Chait-Roth learned at Midreshet Lindenbaum for the year 2015-2016. She is in her second year of a computer science PhD at NYU, and co-directed a women’s summer beit midrash program called Bnot Sinai. The way a person spends their money often tells a …

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Parshat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “You must then make the following declaration before the Lord your God: “I have removed all the sacred portions from my house. I have given the appropriate ones to the Levite and to the orphan and widow, following all the commandments …

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Shabbat Shalom: Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Behold, I give before you this day the life and the good, the death and the evil… blessing and curse; and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your seed…” (Deut. 30:15, 19) What does it mean, to choose …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Tavo 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Recognizing the Righteous and Stopping the Bullies: Shining a Light on Anonymity”

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“Recognizing the Righteous and Stopping the Bullies: Shining a Light on Anonymity”

What does our Torah have to say about the modern scourge of cyberbullying? How could its ancient words possibly be relevant to our digital age of social media?

The words of the Torah are, perhaps, ancient, but they are timely in every generation. We can always find new insights that are relevant to our modern lives. 

In this week’s portion, Ki Tavo, we read 

“ארור מכה רעהו בסתר”

“Cursed is the person who damages his friend in secret” Deuteronomy 27:24

Commentaries have struggled with this verse. Why is the word ‘בסתר’, ‘in secret’, necessary? Isn’t it just as wrong to hurt someone in public?

Let’s look at this verse through the prism of today’s social media shaming culture, in which any individual can be damaged, defamed, even destroyed by nameless, faceless bullies. 

Whereas traditional bullying used to be face-to-face, today’s weapon of choice is the keyboard, with camouflage offered by a screen.

Because of this physical disconnect from their victims, studies show that cyberbullies exhibit less remorse than physical bullies. 

But the victims’ shame can be far greater, as with each ‘share’ and ‘like’ by people all over the world, their damage grows exponentially. Youth who endure cyberbullying can experience a decline in academic performance and difficulties at home, and they are also at an increased risk of depression, anxiety and suicide. 

With this in mind, let’s return to our verse and translate it through the lens of contemporary life: “Cursed is the person who uses the cloak of social media to destroy the identity, the humanity of another”. 

The word בסתר – in secret – takes on an entirely new, contemporary meaning. 

I’d like to add an additional perspective to this verse.  This week we sat shiva for yet another victim of terror: Rabbi Shai Ohayon; father of 4, beloved husband and son who dedicated his life to Torah study after serving in the IDF.  

Rabbi Ohayon was a man who lived ‘בסתר’, “in secret” — an anonymous man dedicated to performing good deeds about which we are only learning now, after his murder. 

On the one hand, we live in a time in which all one has to do is Google someone’s name to find out everything about them. 

But at the same time, we  know so little about who they really, truly are.

Perhaps in a socially-distanced, safe way, it is time for us to reach out and learn about the people around us, so that no one lives ‘בסתר’-  alone and in darkness. 

We need to break down digital barriers and re-establish human contact, bringing the cyberbullying phenomenon out of the shadows.  

We should find out which of our neighbors need help and companionship, especially during this pandemic when so many elderly people and individuals in quarantine are being found dead, alone in their homes. 

And we should allow ourselves to get to know the stories of the anonymous heroes like Rabbi Ohayon that live amongst us, so that we can be illuminated and inspired by them. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Riskin

Shabbat Shalom: Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Cursed be the individual who does not carry aloft the words of this Torah.” (Deuteronomy 27:26) Although I have been blessed with many magnificent students over my five decades of teaching, I shall never forget the piercing words penned by one of …

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Rabbanit Dr. Hannah Hashkes

Ki Tavo: An Abundance of All Things Dr. Hannah Hashkes is a third year fellow in the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL) at Midreshet Lindenbaum Parashat Ki Tavo sets an opposition between gratitude and loyalty to the Torah on the one hand and ungratefulness and neglect on the other hand. The Parasha …

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