Ki Tavo: Entering the Land and a New Age
This midrash speaks to me. Just as the people of Israel were about to embark on the next mega steps of their lives in the Holy Land, and Moses was intoning to them that they have “a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear, I too am on the threshold of a new phase of life as I become an octogenarian (80) later this year.
As they are about to enter Eretz Yisrael, Moses makes the people aware that there are many blessings to be had for obeying the law; to declare gratitude for all that they have been given. He implores them to move forward in a just, lawful Israel after 40 years in the desert.
I can relate on both a personal and professional basis.
As I see age 80 on my horizon and prepare to embrace it (with the whole mishpuchah around to celebrate), I am keenly aware of how fortunate I have been as I rode the rollercoaster of life (an homage to my youth). Ki Tavo brought me back to my roots and made me reflect on my own journey (which fortunately for me was not 40 years in a desert).
According to our Rabbis, reaching the age of 80 means that I have been “given the vigor.”1 Eighty will be a new threshold, one which I really could not imagine while growing up in Brooklyn. As an undergrad and law student in the 1960s, I, like many of my classmates, lived the credo of “Do Not Trust Anyone Over 30!” (Let alone 40, which was OLD!!)
In my 40s I became a private attorney after extensive service in the Federal Government which, well before the Americans with Disabilities Act, was highlighted by serving to break down architectural barriers to persons with disabilities. As a private attorney who represented persons with disabilities (including vision and hearing impaired) I came to realize quickly that a person could succeed at work or in school even if their eyes (vision) or ears (hearing) were impaired and they were reasonably accommodated. These successful litigants had the hearts of a lion and the courage to seek justice.
That the people of Israel spent 40 years in the desert was not lost on me, since when I served as a plaintiff’s attorney, I sought remedies for clients under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act which pegs 40, that seminal number I first encountered in Hebrew School, as the threshold age as a basis for filing a claim. (As an aside, I would add that I now firmly believe that age discrimination in employment really begins at age 50 and gets progressively more prevalent for each year over 50.)
Ironically, and unlike Moses who had told the Israelites that they would receive the fruits of the land as they obeyed the law, I reaped the fruits of my labors for clients by seeking justice against people who had NOT obeyed the law.
Now that I am retired from the law, I have the luxury of time to contemplate, to reflect, and to see deeper meaning in my heritage, and to build on those insights.
Moses’ remark about “a heart to know” resonated with me on lots of levels. As a young lad, I never knew several of my grandparents; at least one of whom I was told had died of cardiac related issues, so as a senior, I’m a volunteer in a study conducted by the National Institute on Aging. In that study I have gotten to know my own heart, including its atrial flutter, which has been controlled by treatment and medication. Just as Moses was urging the people of Israel to look forward and build a safe, just society even if (unsaid by Moses) that they may not live to see to complete fruition, in essence what today we would call “paying it forward,” I know that it is unlikely that I will see the benefits of my participation in the NIA study.
As I approach 80, I still follow Moses’ admonition and use my eyes, ears and heart. My wife and I regularly attend senior fitness classes, ride our bikes or walk, and read. We do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle–in ink! We use our bodies and minds, and hope it sets an example for our children and grandchildren, teaching them that getting older also means staying active. At 70, I completed the Seagull Century (100 miles) Bike Ride. These are part of our lay midrash for our children and grands.
For several years I have been a volunteer mediator for our local consumer affairs office where, as Moses would concur, listening, seeing and creative thinking skills are essential. This past year I saw how vitally important Moses’ entreaties were as I was actively involved in local politics for progressive candidates. While I do tolerate honest differences of opinion on issues, sadly last year at the polls I met people who were in the desert when it came to the reality of history of the 2020 election and the events of January 6. [Even though all decisions on the merits ruled against the challenges made by losers in elections, some people still claimed the election was stolen. A nadir was when one person I met said the protesters at the Capitol were unarmed and that the police were the instigators! Where were their hearts, eyes and ears? After reading and studying Ki Tavo, I am positive none of the naysayers ever read anything Moses may have said, especially his words of wisdom in Ki Tavo to obey the laws.]
As I approach 80, I see overwhelming beauty in Moses and Ki Tavo. I want my children and grands to grow and do whatever they may as long as they have good hearts to know, eyes to see and ears to hear and heart to grasp facts/reality, not hype. AND to grasp that such a grounded reality is reinforced by our faith. Moses, like one of my modern-day heroes, Martin Luther King Jr., never made it into the promised land. Moses, like Dr. King, was guiding his flock–future generations–giving them tenets to honor and by which to conduct their lives. As we lead our lives in contemporary times, we too are guiding our flocks; our children and grandchildren.
Ki Tavo is a midrash, part of the teaching of our faith. To me it resonates with a call for egalitarian justice and a call for what we today might well call menschlekheit. If that is the legacy I pass on to my children and grandchildren, pardon the anachronism, I can live with that–hopefully for many years.
- Psalms 90:10