Parashat Ki Tavo
The numerous blessings which the Israelite nation will receive as a reward are outlined in our parasha of Ki Tavo. In the middle part of this section we are told, “The Lord will establish you as a sacred nation…because you shall observe the commands of the Lord your God and follow His ways” (28:9).
The Netziv (1816-1893), in his commentary on the Torah called the Ha’amek Davar, noted that the final clause of this verse “because you shall observe the commands of the Lord your God and follow His ways”, seems extra and unnecessary. The Torah has already introduced this list of blessings by stating that will granted to Israelites if they faithfully observe God’s commands (28:1). It is therefore obvious that this blessing, “The Lord will establish you as a sacred nation”, is promised on condition that the nation observes the mitzvot. Why then must the Torah emphasize that this promise will be granted in reward for the nations observance?
The Ha’emek Davar explains that the Torah in this verse addresses a particular group among the nation – described by the Netziv as “people who wish to conduct themselves with withdrawal [perishut] and attachment [deveikut].” These are the ones who prefer to abstain from mundane, material pursuits and devote themselves exclusively to spiritual endeavors. People who follow this lifestyle might be tempted to avoid mitzvot that entail active social engagement, such as community work, charitable endeavors and the like, feeling that communal involvement will hinder their efforts to achieve the high standards of holiness and piety that they seek and passionately pursue. The Torah therefore promises that God will “establish you as a sacred nation” and enable those seeking high levels of kedusha to achieve their goal, even when they “observe the commands of the Lord your God and follow His ways.”
The Netziv writes that the phrase “ve-halakhta bi-drakhav” (“and follow His ways”) refers to acts of kindness performed on behalf of others, working with people to offer assistance as needed. Just as G-d retains His holiness even as He concerns Himself with the needs of mortal humans, similarly, giants of the spirit do not compromise their level of sanctity by actively engaging in communal and charitable activities. God promises that such undertakings will actually contribute to our establishment as a “goi kadosh,” a holy nation. Far from undermining our pursuit of holiness, working to fulfill the needs of individuals and communities will in fact advance this pursuit and move us closer to the lofty goal of being a sacred nation.
Rabbi Sam Taylor