Toward Shabbat: Ki Tavo

Since I first came to Kabbalat Shabbat at BJ several years ago, I have been moved by the music, tefillah, and spirit of your community, and I’m thrilled to now join you as a Marshall T. Meyer Rabbinic Fellow for the upcoming year. I can’t wait to get started with the learning, the ritual life, and the social justice work of BJ. While I wish it were possible to meet in person, I’m looking forward to conversation over virtual coffee dates in the coming weeks; please feel free to reach out to me at ggleason@bj.org to connect. And by way of introduction, I want to share what has occupied my mind and heart as of late.

Last week, as I heard the news of the young person who murdered two peaceful protesters protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I felt a cold sensation in my chest. A numbing of the heart. There has been so much bad news lately that it’s been difficult not to react in this way, as my body decides for itself that freezing of the heart is preferable to heartbreak.

In the end of this week’s parashah, Moses gives a blessing to the people. Or rather, after a litany of criticism, he praises what they have attained after 40 years of wandering. What they have earned from 40 years of suffering and confusion, hopelessness and uncertainty is not merely a life of ease in the land of milk and honey—but rather “a heart that knows, eyes that see, and ears that hear.” That is their reward.

A few days later last week, as I listened to the radio on a long drive, I heard the voices of those bitterly and powerfully speaking truth in Kenosha, and finally my heart broke. My heart could begin to know its own pain. My eyes could begin to see. My ears could begin to hear. I thought, as I drove, that I did not want to lose the feeling of outrage and pain that I felt in that moment. My teacher Rabbi Benay Lappe often says “memorize that feeling,” with regards to the feeling of deeply understanding a text. I wanted to memorize the feeling of outrage and motivation to act, so I could bring it to fruition in action.

The profound teaching that Moshe offers in the end of parashat Ki Tavo is that, through difficulty and hardship, we have the opportunity to attain these three things: a heart that knows, eyes that see, and ears that hear. After the Israelites journey through the desert, they can no longer live in a world of fantasy and denial. Because of their own suffering, they cannot turn away from suffering but must bear witness to it—see it and hear it. Through the difficulties that many of us have endured over the past months—the loss of life as we knew it—I wish for us that same blessing. May we look at reality with clear eyes, with open ears, with a soft and resilient heart full of true knowledge. May we memorize the moments of outrage so they can fuel us forward, rather than quickly returning to numbness. And may we tend our own hearts with love.

Rabbinic Fellow Grace Gleason

Written By Grace Gleason

Grace Gleason is a third-year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Prior to rabbinical school, she pursued her love of Talmud at SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, Yeshivat H...