Monday, August 27, 2007

A Muse: Ki Tavo 2007

Ki Tavo has within it three dominating verses which defines and gives shape to our mission as a just and righteous nation. The three verses are 27:19; 26:12-13; and 26:5-9. The first verse addresses the ger, yatom and almanah. The common denominator of all three is their foreignness. Either they are foreign due to birth, or due to circumstances. In either situation they have been relegated to the periphery of society, and as such have been marginalized. The second verse addresses the economic plight of the poor. The third puts the need for addressing these social and economic needs within the framework of history.

Hermann Cohen’s insight into this parsha reveals that a righteous sytem of justice has to be founded upon the platform of social justice and redistribution of wealth. According to Cohen, it isn’t enough to sympathize with the ger, yatom and almanah, but their issues must be addressed in a materially demonstrative manner. Thus the portion of Ki Tavo not only says “cursed is he who perverts the justice of the stranger the fatherless and the widow”, but that in order to ameliorate their plight we must materially provide for them. Not doing so does not nor cannot abate their situation. We as a people are charged to do so because once we, too, were a marginalized people, oppressed and exploited.

While Hermann Cohen’s reading of the purpose and intent of these verses is undoubtedly correct there is some difficulty in reconciling it with government systems modeled after western capitalism and a relatively free market system. Whether we are referring to the Israel or the United States, socialism in its pristine form, no matter how noble isn’t practical. Furthermore, issues surrounding the ger are very complicated. Ought we consider those seeking asylum (in Israel) from Darfur as falling into this category of which Cohen speaks; and what of the undocumented foreigners seeking work and dignity within the United States?