The Parashah of this week, Ki Teitze (when you go out), is directly followed by Ki Tavo (when you come in). I immediately thought of our Shabbat hymn – Shalom ‘Aleichem. This hymn advocates for a perfect peace, the sort of peace we are seeking on Shabbat days – “tsetchem l’shalom” and “boachem l’shalom” (may you be whole/ at peace when you go out and when you come in”. When we do Shabbat at our homes or in synagogues we very often sing the hymn “Shalom ‘aleichem” (peace be on to you). This hymn advocates for a total peace “b’tsetchem l’shalom and b’boachem l’shalom” (may you be whole/ at peace when you go out and when you come in”. Both the sequence of our two parashiyot and our Shabbat hymn seem to point to certain fluidity, a dynamic of coming and going – with that one constant factor that everything is part of a bigger whole. Moses broke the first set of the Luchot Habrit (stone tablets of the covenant) when he witnessed that the people of Israel worshipped a golden calf instead of Adonai where after a great deal of the people of Israel got punished severely. Then, Moses went back up the mountain and acquired a second set. When the ark of the covenant was completed, it was instructed that both the broken tablets would be placed in the ark of the covenant as well as the new/ complete ones.
What this teaches us is that we cannot just start something anew, assuming we would enter a new stage in our lives unaffected by the experiences we gained before. Whenever we start a new job, for instance, we bring into our new jobs the anxieties and the experiences we gained in our previous jobs.
When we start new relationships, whether romantically or socially, we bring into these the experiences we gained from our previous ones.
These experiences may be good ones, in which case they will help us to move forward solidifying and strengthening our perception of them. But when these previous experiences weren’t that great, they might impair our new experiences in one way or the other. Sometimes this impairment may be severe.
Ki Teitze: When you go out – when we leave these environments, whether professional or personal, we ought to reflect on them and figure out how we feel about leaving. We hope that we may be brave enough that if these experiences weren’t great that we are ready to acknowledge it and seek the assistance we need in order to “Ki -Tavo” – to enter into the new experience that is waiting for us to be accepted.
The Torah acknowledges this difficulty. At the end of Ki Teitze, the people of Israel are reminded of their hardships in the land of Egypt, then Ki Tavo is them entering into the land of Israel. Torah understands the difficulties and the hardships this brings, maybe unwantedly, along. As a reminder of this, Moses’ first set of tablets was placed together with the second “complete” set of tablets.
Torah understands that we can’t be at peace with ourselves and our new engagements, if we don’t recognise what might be broken inside of us. Both the broken bits of us as well as the whole bits of us constitute who we are – for better and for worse.
Where the smashing of the tablets might stir in us an emotional or mental sense of incompleteness, the placing of them within a holy vessel together with the knowledge it can be made complete again – might give us hope for a brighter, more loving, future.
For some reason, incompleteness and brokenness are easier felt and recognised than the sense of completeness and being loved and respected. Even more complicated is to try to find out what our own personal “holy vessel” ought to look like. Perhaps this vessel is a good friend who can reflect with us on what our broken parts and our complete parts are. For others it is their parents or their children. Yet for others it might be the realisation and the acceptance of the fact that complete wholeness and peace is hard to achieve. ‘Tohav et re’acha kamocha” – love your neighbour as you love yourself, but also, “love your neighbour as you love your broken self”. Our broken parts make us unique, our broken parts are what make us whole. It is these broken parts that will enable a stronger sense of ourselves. Let’s not forget that even the most holy of holy items had a piece inside of it that was broken.
We owe it to ourselves and those we engage with in synagogue and outside to try to engage with our broken selves. Ki Teitze, when we go out so we may Ki Tavo, so we may come in b’shalom, whole and in peace with ourselves and our surroundings.
In our Shabbat’s Shalom ‘Aleichem this dynamic is reversed. We ask for the angels to come in and bring us peace, so that our Shabbat may be a peaceful one. The “depart in peace” part refers to the end of Shabbat. What we are invoking with this song is that, no matter what hardship our new week may hold for us – we hope that the memory of Shabbat sustains us for the next one. But there is also this urge to try to maintain this feeling of Shabbat for others. So all of us, Jew or non-Jew, can have a sense of peace on Shabbat or in their weekend.
Shabbat Shalom/ A peaceful Shabbat
Peter Luijendijk LBC rabbinic student
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.