Parshas Ki Savo
"Grind it out"
The explicit descriptions of the disasters, personal and national, that make
up a large portion of this week’s parsha raise certain issues. Why do Moshe
and the Torah paint such a harsh and unforgiving picture of the Jewish
future before the people? And if we expect people to glory in their
Jewishness, is this the way to sell the product, so to speak? We all support
the concept of truth in advertising but isn’t this over and above the
The fact that the description of much of Jewish history and its calamitous
events related in this parsha is completely accurate, prophecy fulfilled to
the nth degree, only compounds the difficulties mentioned above. But in
truth, there is clear reason for these descriptions of the difficulties
inherent in being Jewish to be made apparent.
We read in this book of Devarim that God poses the stark choices before the
Jewish people – life or death, uniqueness or conformity, holiness or
mendacity. Life is made up of choices and most of them are difficult and
fateful. Sugar coating the consequences of life’s choices hardly makes for
wisdom. Worse still, it erodes any true belief or sense of commitment in the
choice that actually is made.
Without the necessary commitment, the choice itself over time becomes
meaningless. The Torah tells us that being a Jew requires courage,
commitment, a great sense of vision and eternity and deep self-worth. So the
Torah must spell out the down side, so to speak, of the choice in being
Jewish, The folk saying always was: “It is difficult to be a Jew.” But, in
the long run it is even more difficult and painful, eventually, for a Jew
not to be a Jew in practice, thought and commitment.
According to Jewish tradition and Halacha, a potential convert to Judaism is
warned by the rabbinic court of the dangers of becoming Jewish. He or she is
told that Jews are a small minority, persecuted by many and reviled by
others. But the potential convert also sees the vision and grandeur of
Judaism, the inheritance of our father Avraham and our mother Sarah and of
the sheltering wings of the God of Israel that guarantee our survival and
influence. The potential convert is then asked to choose whether he or she
is willing to truly commit to the project.
Without that commitment the entire conversion process is a sham and
spiritually meaningless. And the commitment is not really valid if the
downside, so to speak, of being Jewish is not explained and detailed.
Judaism is not for fair-weather friends or soldiers on parade. The new
phrase in the sporting world is that the players have to “grind it out.”
Well, that is what being Jewish means – to grind it out, daily, for an
The positive can only outweigh the negative if the negative is known and
defined. Those who look for an easy faith, a religion that demands nothing,
who commit to empty phrases but are never willing to pay the price of
practice, adherence and discipline will not pass the test of time and
survival that being Jewish has always required.
Rabbi Berel Wein