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 and include the laws of 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 Temple in Jerusalem once the Israelites have finally entered the Land He promised to them.
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 negating circumcision by any means; 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 opens with the promise that obedience to God will be rewarded. These rewards include Divine protection, prosperity and blessings on families and future generations.
Disobedience and rebellion against God, however, result in punishment, and the Word of God lists 98 chilling admonitions that take up half of the Parasha. These include diseases and plagues, poverty and 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 when talking to God 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 cross, He took upon Himself the curse for our wrongdoing.” (Galatians 3:13)
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 3:10)
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)
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)
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)