Ki Tavo Deuteronomy
One of the most powerful ideas that Judaism gave the world is that God could not be contained in an image. In fact, we can’t even pronounce the Holy Divine four letter name of God, יהוהas each is a vowel! The secret of pronunciation was once known by the High Priests of old but now we only guess at it. The idea that God could not be contained in an image is set out and reinforced in the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them;” (Ex: 20:4-5). This is so important a commandment that it is number two of the top ten list! We are not to make idols and to this day we haven’t discovered any idols of the ancient Jewish God that is called YAWEH by biblical scholars. This commandment went directly to the heart of the matter because in the ancient world there were gods and goddesses everywhere for everything. Each had an image and represented different aspects of the world. There was a sky god, earth god and water goddess. And the people are tempted time and again. Much of the Torah is a record of the struggle of the Israelites against their own impulses to import idols from the surrounding peoples. It is hard to maintain a deep connection to a God you can’t see and seems elusive. Thus this week’s portion gives some very practical advice to the Children of Israel when they cross over the Jordan River to settle the land. Moses instructs them to erect two large stones, coat them with plaster and inscribe the Torah on it. No image of God—but a representation of the Law. This is a reminder of the covenant for the people. And these stones with the words of the Torah will be part of an elaborate tribal ceremony that will reaffirm the covenant between God and the Israelites. This ceremony at Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerezim is also described in this week’s portion, Ki Tavo and is a dramatic acting out of the blessings and curses that God brings for certain things. The Children of Israel do not prepare an image of God. But the placing of the written record in their midst and the acting out of sacred drama is a concrete reminder of God’s teaching and the covenant in the lives of the Israelites. It continues to be our struggle today. We doubters of God’s presence. We dismissers of God’s existence in our lives still look for reminders. The mezuzah on our doors act to remind us. The Ten Commandments and Eternal Light in the sanctuaries of our synagogues remind us. We have the sacred drama of worship services that are supposed to inspire us. But the most important reminder of the mitzvoth and the Teachings of our covenant should be in the ways we act and treat one another. When we live out the words of this teaching we bring God’s reality and presence into our lives and into the world. This is how we are to be reminded. Let’s have at it.