Jacob the Aramean

 Ki Tavo

Dear Rabbi,

I have commented on all of the parshahs of Deuteronomy that I have read so far as merely a repetition of the First Four Books of Moses and as the one that was written by Moses himself. I also have written that it was Moses’ slant on what was written earlier, which did not exactly match with the earlier written text.
 In a sense this bothered me, but reading Ki Tavo gave me a new meaning of what Moses was attempting to accomplish.  As I have also noted earlier, I consider Moses as one of the greatest coaches that ever lived and his motivational techniques were probably read by the greatest sports coaches who ever lived, not to mention military commanders.
It is with that thought in mind that made me realize that what Moses was doing in Deuteronomy was constantly conducting “practices” of what the Israelites had to do to live up to the honor of being the “Chosen People”. Just like a coach will constantly demand that the same play be run over and over again during a practice so that during the game it becomes second nature and it is done properly, the Israelites were constantly “drilled” into what was expected of them when they entered the Promised Land.
There are some questions that I had when reading this parshah. In the First Aliyah at Deuteronomy 26:5 the following is stated:
“And you shall call out and say before the Lord, your G-d, "An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation.”
In reading about Armeans, I learned that they were one of a confederacy of tribes that spoke a North Semitic language (Aramaic) and, between the 11th and 8th century bce, occupied Aram, a large region in northern Syria. In the same period, some of these tribes seized large tracts of Mesopotamia.
When Abraham sought a wife for his son Isaac, he sent a servant to the land of Aram to find Rebekah (Genesis 24:1025:20). Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, is called an Aramean in Genesis 31:10. It is in Deuteronomy 26:5 that there is a reference to Jacob, since both his mother and his grandfather were from Mesopotamia and therefore might be considered Aramean by some.
What I don’t understand is the statement in Deuteronomy 26:5 that says “an Aramean sought to destroy my forefather”. What does that mean? In reading further on the Arameans, they joined with other Syrian tribes against King David, who defeated them. After the time of Solomon, the Arameans were a perennial thorn in Israel’s side, but all of this was after Jacob went down to Egypt, so what is the meaning of “sought to destroy my forefather”?
The First Aliyah repeats something that is a common theme throughout the Torah when in Deuteronomy 26:9: we read the following:
“And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
However earlier in the First Aliyah, this section introduces us to the mitzvah of bikurimthe requirement to bring one's first fruits to the Holy Temple. This mitzvah applies to fruits and produce grown in the land of Israel, and only those for which the land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates and olives. If there is to be this tribute to G-d of the first of the fruits, why isn’t “milk and honey” also included? I realize that neither is a “fruit”, but It seems to me that an offering of this kind, truly tells the Almighty of how much we appreciate what the Lord has done for us.
In the Fourth Aliyah, the Jews are instructed to gather large stones when they cross the Jordan River. These stones were to be plastered, and the entire Torah was to be engraved upon them. Another set of stones was also to be inscribed with the entire Torah, and be set on Mt. Ebal.
Mount Ebal is the large mountain, north of the ancient city of Shechem, in the center of Samaria, some 40 miles north of Jerusalem. The excavation site is located on a slope beneath the summit, on the northeastern side of the mountain.
Because I was curious as to why the entire Torah was to be written in stone and placed at this mountain, where the curses are to be directed, I researched this and found that the Samaritans thought that this was incorrect and that it was at Mt. Gerizim which is where the blessings were to be announced, which seems to make more sense. I also read that the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to go along with the Samaritan theory. What is your take on all of this?
I leave you with the following observation. The entire portion of Ki Tavo is relatively short with the exception of the Sixth Aliyah, which deal with the curses. In looking at the entire history of the Jewish people to this very day, it seems that most of us have not read what is contained in the Sixth Aliyah and unfortunately, we as a people have suffered many of the curses that were predicted if we did not obey the commandments. What are your thoughts? 


Dear Mordecai,

I'm glad that you've come around to Deuteronomy's manner of speaking and can see the merit of Moses' seemingly elongated soliloquy. 
I was delighted to see that you wanted to analyze Deuteronomy 26:5 since it appears in the Passover Haggadah.
“And you shall call out and say before the Lord, your G-d, "An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation.”
The answer you found that is most well-received is the one about the Arameans fighting against King David. That hostility is then projected backward to the time of Jacob. In any event, Lavan did, in a sense, try to kill Jacob. He robbed him at least!
Regarding Deuteronomy 26:9, the bikurim are brought as offerings as opposed to milk and honey because they come directly from the Land. No intermediary exists between the person and the fruit. Milk and honey are animal products.
I admit that I haven't studied the matter enough to say whether I find the Samaritan theory persuasive and that the Torah is mistaken. I do, however, find it funny that the mountain associated with the curses would have stones with the Torah written on them.  
What I hear in your statement about the sixth aliyah and the curses is that the Jewish people hasn't studied this passage enough and as a result we have suffered the curses mentioned therein. I certainly like the connection between behavior and consequence. Were we to study this passage, then we would not suffer its content. Then, on another level, you may be saying that we may be reading this passage but not internalizing it. In short, does the Jewish people deserve the pain that it carries? Yet, we also consider ourselves a persecuted people. That is certainly undeserved pain. I will say that if - in a post-Holocaust world - I have to choose between the Jewish people and G-d, I choose the Jewish people. We relied on G-d then to no effect. Now, we have to hold fateful outcomes in our hands. 


Dear Rabbi,
My point about King David is that he came after the Torah and the passage I referred to was from Moses saying that an Aramean sought to destroy my forefather, which could not have meant something that occurred after Moses made the statement. You completely ignored the possibility that Jacob himself could be considered an Aramean, which would further complicate the Jacob saga. Lavan would be a leading suspect, but there is no account of Lavan trying to "kill" Jacob and he did give Jacob his two daughters. What did Lavan "rob" him of? Jacob had two wives and a very large family. He had to work for Lavan but he became rich doing it. Lavan may not have been the greatest role model, but as I take it, in those days it was Lavan that was the head of the clan and that he expected his children, which would include a son-in-law to stay within his family. Certainly Jacob thought that way and all of his sons had to abide to Jacob's wishes. 
My overall point to the sixth Aliyah is that it is much longer and more detailed as to what will happen if we do not adhere to what is contained in the Torah. The graphic and disastrous results have befallen the decedents of our desert ancestors and if we are to accept that we are the "Chosen People" we have to live up to a "higher standard" and if we don't there are severe consequences. Whether anyone can live up to the standards demanded is a question I cannot answer.