Sunday, September 2, 2007

This is how WWII Began

Probably the single most ominous weekly portion of Torah reading of the entire year is Ki Tavo - Deuteronomy chapter 26 verse 1 thru 29 verse 9. So ominous that the reader who stands at the podium and recites out loud while the congregants follow lowers his voice and mumbles. So ominous that while at any other segment it is a sign of public honour to be called "up" to recite a blessing at the podium during the reading, at this one section it's not an honour at all, and either the reader says the blessing since he's already up there and doesn't need to be called, or one of the gabais, the officers of the synagogue, if you will, is called up, as a duty, not an honour.

And why all this? Here's a link, so that you won't have to get up and walk over to your bookshelf. Moses is summing up, before his death. In the first half of the portion he tells of all the fine things that will happen if the Israelites live according to God's commandments. Then, in the second, he turns to the possibility that maybe they won't. Chapter 28 verse 15 sets the tone: "You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country... The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.... Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away.... day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.... The sights you see will drive you mad.... The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young....

And so on, and on, and on. In every synagogue in which I've ever been on the Shabbat in late summer when this portion is read, there is always a hushed silence as the reader rushes through the curses, as they pile higher and higher, and we slump lower and lower.

This is what was read in the synagogues the world over, but especially, in Poland, 68 years ago today, on the second day of the German invasion that was to become World War II - and the Shoah.

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