Fragment of the Cairo Genizah – The Passover Haggadah pages | CC: google images
Dvar Torah to Parashat “Ki Tavo” by Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom
Anyone who’s ever attended a traditional Passover Seder will be familiar with the declaratory formula pronounced when bringing first fruits to the Temple which is found near the beginning of this week’s Torah reading: “My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt…and the Lord bought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, etc. (Deut. 26: 5-8),” which is then expanded upon in the Hagaddah with a running commentary.
The Hagaddah contains a parallel biblical narrative, from Joshua 24, which mentions that our ancestors had been idol worshippers, and the rabbis state that both passages begin with g’nut (disgrace/rebuke) and end with shevach (praise), the improved condition consisting of the worship of the one true God and the attainment of freedom. But after this celebratory passage, and a second one to be said upon bringing of the tithe (verses 12-15), the chapter ends with an assurance that with Israel’s exclusive relationship with God, Israel will be superior to the nations, a promise repeated at the beginning of chapter 28.
There’s a synagogue tradition of reading verses 15-68 of chapter 28 in sotto voce, because its contents are so hard to hear. We’re lucky that the explicit formulas of superiority are only a few words long – but I find them even more demoralizing. Like our history of slavery and idolatry, we mention them in order to recognize how far we’ve come, and like that last curse in 28:68, where we really don’t want to go.