Ki Tavo: The Finale of the Main Speech

This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag

Saying 'thank-you':  Ask any mother - it's not enough to 'think' it - a child has to say it.  For some reason, a verbal declaration, be it of gratitude or regret, is of paramount importance not only for the listener, but - even more so - for the person who utters it.

In Parshat Ki Tavo, we find two such examples of obligatory declarations, precisely where the main speech of Sefer Devarim reaches its conclusion.  In this week's shiur, as we study the concluding section of the 'main speech,' we attempt to explain why.


As usual, we must begin our shiur with a quick review of the three basic components of the main speech in Sefer Devarim:

  • Introduction - the events at Ma'amad Har Sinai (chap. 5)
  • The mitzva section - (chapters 6-11)
  • The chukim u-mishpatim section - (chapters 12-26)

Our last several shiurim have focused on the mitzvot in the chukim u-mishpatim section, which began in Parshat Re'eh with the commandment to establish the National Center at hamakom asher yivchar Hashem, then continued in Parshat Shoftim with mitzvot relating to national leadership and waging war, and concluded with a wide variety of civil laws ('mitzvot bein adam le-chavero") in Parshat Ki Teitzei.

Now, in Parshat Ki Tavo, we find:

  1. Two final mitzvot, which conclude the chukim & mishpatim section;
  2. Moshe Rabbeinu's concluding remarks (26:16-19);
  3. A special ceremony to take place on Har Eival (chapter 27);
  4. The 'Tochacha' - a lengthy rebuke (in chapter 28).

Off this backdrop, we will discuss these topics in three "mini-shiurim" into which the shiur will be divided.

Part I: The Two Last Mitzvot of the Main Speech

Review the opening section of Parshat Ki Tavo (26:1-15), noting how it contains two mitzvot:

  1. Mikra Bikkurim (26:1-11) A special declaration made upon the presentation of one's first fruits.
  2. Vidui Maaser (26:12-15) A special declaration recited once every three years, when 'ma'aser sheni' [the second tithe] is given to the poor (rather than to the 'makom asher yivchar Hashem').

Then, review the next short 'parshia'  (26:26-19), noting once again how it forms the concluding remarks of the 'main speech'.

[To verify this point, simply review the opening pesukim of chapter 27, noting how they are written in third person narrative, and hence form the beginning of a new section.]

Based on this short analysis, it becomes quite clear that these two mitzvot were specially chosen to conclude the chukim & mishpatim section of the main speech of Sefer Devarim.  This shiur will attempt to explain why.

Where They 'Really' Belong!

Before we discuss what is special about these two mitzvot, we must first take into consideration that both of them should have been recorded earlier in the speech, back in Parshat Re'eh.  Let's explain why.

Recall how Parshat Re'eh discussed numerous mitzvot relating to "hamakom asher yivchar Hashem" (note how that phrase appears over fifteen times in that Parsha and in the beginning of Parshat Shoftim, see 12:5,11,14,18,21,26; 14:23; 15:20; 16:2,6,7,11,15,16; and 17:8).  Afterward, that phrase doesn't appear again until the mitzva of bikkurim at the end of the speech (see 26:1-2)!

Furthermore, back in Parshat Re'eh, we already found laws relating to bringing other produce to hamakom asher yivchar Hashem (see 14:22-23).  Hence, it certainly would have made more sense to record the laws of bikkurim back in Parshat Re'eh.

[In fact, if we compare this to the pattern established in Parshat Mishpatim (see Shmot 23:14-19, especially 23:19), then the mitzva of mikra bikkurim should have been recorded in Devarim chapter 16 (in Parshat Re'eh), together with (or immediately after) the laws of shalosh regalim (compare Devarim 16:9-12 with Shmot 23:14-19).]

Similarly, the laws of vidui ma'aser also should have been recorded in Parshat Re'eh, for the simple reason that all the other laws of the three year cycle of ma'aser sheni are found there (see 14:22-29).

Yet for some reason, Sefer Devarim prefers to uproot these mitzvot from Parshat Re'eh and record them instead as part of the finale of the entire speech.

Matching Bookends

One could suggest that the relocation of these mitzvot yields a chiastic structure for the entire chukim u-mishpatim section of the main speech.  In other words, the mitzvot of ha-makom asher yivchar Hashem serve as 'bookends' for the entire chukim u-mishpatim section (chapters 12-26), as it both begins and ends with mitzvot relating to this theme.

[In a previous shiur, we offered a similar explanation for the structure of the earlier mitzva section of Moshe's main speech.  We suggested that the parshiyot of shma and vehaya im shamoa serve as 'bookends' for this section (i.e. chapters 6-11), thus emphasizing the section's overall theme, 'ahavat Hashem' (see shiur on Parshat Va'etchanan).]

Nonetheless, a more basic question remains: i.e. Why were specifically these two mitzvot - mikra bikkurim and vidui ma'aser - selected (over all the others) to form this closing 'bookend'?

To answer this question, we must show how both of these mitzvot relate to thanking God for the Land of Israel, and how that concept is an underlying theme in the main speech.

To start, note how both mikra bikkurim and vidui maser contain declarations of gratitude for the fertile land granted to us by God:

  1. Mikra Bikkurim "You shall then recite: ...and God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I now bring my first fruits of the soil which You have given me" (26:9-10).
  2. Vidui Maaser "When you set aside your ma' shall declare before Hashem: I have [fulfilled all my obligations]... Look down from heaven and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers" (26:12-15).

Note as well how both declarations thank God not only for the Land but also recall His covenant with the Avot (which included God's original promise of the Land).

This element emerges explicitly in vidui ma'aser (see quote above / 26:15), and is expressed more subtly in mikra bikkurim, as that proclamation reflects thanksgiving for God's fulfillment of his covenant at 'brit bein habetarim' - when the land was promised to Avraham's offspring (see Breishit 15:18 / also compare Breishit 15:13-16 w/ Devarim 26:5-8!.

Recall as well how the primary purpose of the main speech was to teach Bnei Yisrael the various laws which they must keep when they enter the land.  For example,:

"And these are the mitzva, chukim u-mishpatim that God has commanded me to impart to you, to be observed in the land that you are about to enter and conquer..." (6:1).

[See also 5:28 and the Introductory shiur to Sefer Devarim.]

These observations suggest that Sefer Devarim intentionally 'saved' these two 'declarations' for the conclusion of the main speech - because both of these mitzvot relate to the need for Am Yisrael to recognize why God gave them the land of Israel.  Hence, it becomes most appropriate that the final mitzvot of this speech include expressions of gratitude to God for the land He has given us.

In this sense, one could understand the mitzva of mikra bikkurim in a slightly different light.  Instead of viewing this mitzva as a yearly thanksgiving to God for our fruits, it should be viewed instead as a yearly thanksgiving to God for the Land.  In other words, we thank God for the Land and bring a sampling of our first fruits as a 'token of our appreciation'!  [To verify this, carefully read 26:3-8 once again.]

[This may also explain why we quote mikra bikkurim in the Haggadah on Pesach as part of the mitzva of retelling the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim and thanking God for His fulfillment of brit bein habetarim.  Whereas the primary purpose of this mitzva is to thank God for fulfilling His covenant, this declaration is appropriate as well for maggid, in which we thank God for His fulfillment of brit bein habetarim.  (See Shemot 13:8 and compare with Devarim 26:3, noting the use of 've-higgadeti' in both contexts!)]

Recalling God's covenant with the Avot serves another purpose, as well.  The farmer not only thanks God for fulfilling His promise to our forefathers, but also reminds himself of the reason why God gave us the land - to become a great nation to represent Him in the world.  [See Breishit 12:1-3 and the shiur on Parshat Lech Lecha.]

As such, these declarations are significant in that they emphasize the reason for keeping all the mitzvot of the main speech in Sefer Devarim - that Bnei Yisrael become an 'am kadosh' (a holy nation), a model for all nations to follow.  [See Devarim 4:5-8.]

Part II / The Finale - Moshe's Concluding Remarks

This same theme continues in Moshe Rabbeinu's concluding remarks of the main speech (which follow these two mitzvot):

"On this day, God commands you to observe these chukim u-mishpatim... God has affirmed this day that you are His 'am segula' (treasured nation) and He will set you high above all the nations, that you shall be, as He promised, a 'goy kadosh' (a holy nation)..." (see 26:16-19)

Moshe concludes the main speech by reiterating the primary purpose behind keeping these mitzvot: that Am Yisrael becomes an am kadosh, a holy nation, worthy of representing God.

Back to Har Sinai

Moshe's concluding remarks also feature a striking parallel to God's original charge to Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai.  Recall that when Bnei Yisrael first arrive at Har Sinai, God summons Moshe to the mountain and proposes a special covenant with Bnei Yisrael:

"And now, if you will listen to my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall become for Me a 'segula' amongst all the nations...and you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a goy kadosh..." (Shemot 19:5-6).

This proposal, which actually forms the prelude to the Ten Commandments, explains the central function of Matan Torah - that Am Yisrael will become a goy kadosh to represent God.

At the conclusion of the main speech, in which Moshe Rabbeinu repeats those mitzvot which were originally given at Har Sinai (immediately after the dibrot - see the introductory shiur to Sefer Devarim), this very same theme is repeated:

"And God has affirmed this day that you are, as He promised you [at Har Sinai!], His am segula who shall observe all of His commandments, and that He will set you, in fame and renown and glory, high above all the nations that He has made; and that you shall be, as He promised [at Har Sinai!], a goy kadosh..."  (26:18-19).

Moshe's concluding remarks thus appropriately close his presentation of the mitzvot that will facilitate Bnei Yisrael's development into a am segula and an am kadosh, just as He had originally promised at Har Sinai!

The Proper Balance

Moshe's concluding remarks also beautifully tie together the two sections of the main speech.  Recall that the mitzva section, whose primary topic is ahavat Hashem, opened with the commandment to love God - 'be-chol levavcha u-vechol nafshecha' - with all your heart and soul.  Now, at the conclusion of the chukim u-mishpatim section, Moshe explains how these two sections relate to one other:

"The Lord your God commands you this day to keep these chukim u-mishpatim; observe them faithfully - 'be-chol levavcha u-vechol nafshecha' - with all your heart and with all your soul..."  (26:16).

In other words, the numerous specific mitzvot recorded in the chukim u-mishpatim section must be observed with the proper attitude, as explained in the mitzva section.  Thus, Moshe's speech has come full circle.  The general values of faith and love of God outlined in the mitzva section must combine with the practical, day-to-day details and guidelines of the chukim u-mishpatim section, to form a mode of behavior capable of producing God's special nation in His special land.

Part III - The Covenant at Arot Moav and Har Eival

The thematic and textual parallel to Ma'amad Har Sinai at the conclusion of the main speech continues in the next parshia as well:

"Moshe and the elders charged the people, saying: Observe everything that I command you today... for when you cross the Jordan, you must erect large stones and coat them with plaster [in order that] you shall write on them all the words of this Torah [the mitzvot of Sefer Devarim]... erect these stones on Har Eival... And you shall build there a mizbeach... (note parallel to Shmot 20:22), and you shall offer upon it olot and shelamim..." (Devarim 27:1-8).

You might recall that an almost identical ceremony was conducted some forty years earlier, at Ma'amad Har Sinai, immediately after Moshe taught Bnei Yisrael the laws he was taught after the Ten Commandments:

"And Moshe came [down from Har Sinai] and told the people all of God's commandments and the mishpatim... Moshe then wrote down all of God's commandments.  Then, he woke up early in the morning and built a mizbeach at the foot of the mountain and erected twelve large stones... and they offered olot and shlamim..." (Shmot 24:3-8).

Furthermore, the requirement that a tochacha be read as part of the ceremony on Har Eival (see Devarim 27:11-28:69) parallels the tochacha delivered at Har Sinai (Vayikra 26:3-46, see also 25:1).

Thus, this ceremony on Har Eival, which consists of the writing and teaching of the mitzvot of Sefer Devarim, the construction of a mizbeach and offering of olot and shelamim, parallels the covenantal ceremony at Ma'amad Har Sinai,  when Bnei Yisrael proclaimed 'na'aseh ve-nishma' (see Shmot 24:3‑11).

The reason behind this parallel is simple.  Since this generation (which stands on the brink of entry into the Land to fulfill these mitzvot) was not present at the original ceremony, a new ceremony is required for the new generation to reaffirm their commitment to the covenant.

This ceremony will take place on Har Eival, where Bnei Yisrael will 'relive' the experience of Har Sinai by studying the mitzvot of Sefer Devarim, which will guide them towards the establishment of their new nation.


It is not often in our history that a generation is granted the opportunity to fulfill a destiny originally intended for an earlier generation.  Aware of the immense potential latent in such an opportunity, Moshe encourages the new generation in the desert to rise to the challenge of establishing an am kadosh in the Promised Land, as God had originally planned for their parents.

Although this challenge by Moshe Rabbeinu to Am Yisrael is some three thousand years old, it takes on additional significance today, as our own generation has been granted the opportunity to fulfill this very same destiny, a privilege that had remained but a dream for so many years.

The tragedies of this past week in Yerushalayim and Tzrifin, that cut short the lives of wonderful people who had dedicated their entire lives to the realization of these ideals, certainly cloud those dreams.  Yet their memory must serve as our source of inspiration to continue.