This week’s parasha, Ki Tavo says that when you bring that basket of first fruits of your harvest to the local priest, to offer it up to God, “you shall recite as follows before Adonai your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to Adonai, the God of our fathers, and Adonai heard our plea…Adonai freed us from Egypt….He brought us to this land…[why] I now bring the first fruits of the soil…” (Deut 26:1-10)
Say it every year, every harvest, repeat these words. It’s our origin story.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Say it every day, every morning in school, repeat these words. These, too, are our origin story.
What are the important concepts in these recitations? For the Israelite farmer, it’s remembering that our history was one of oppression and slavery; we cast our lots with those folks who came out of slavery and were freed; in short, liberty. The following texts read “you shall enjoy together with the Levite and stranger in your midst, all the bounty (Deut 26:11), and you must remember to give part of your yield to the most vulnerable in your society – the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. In short, justice for all.
What’s the takeaway from the Pledge? Liberty and justice for all, exactly those words.
These are not loyalty pledges. These are acknowledgements of the most important social values the people have; never forget the fundamental values of the community. A loyalty pledge, however is a “legal” document that is required for an individual to get the advantages of membership in a group, like employment or tax benefits…or vote. Over and over, loyalty pledges, especially the ones that target “subversive” groups or organizations, have been found to be unconstitutional. I remember when I moved to Connecticut. In order to register to vote, I had to swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the State of Connecticut, and the United States (in that order, mind you. Pennsylvania was the same; must be something about those 13 original colonies.) Well, I thought long and hard about that, but in the end, I decided to go along with it, since it didn’t require me to state I was part of any particular group or political bent.
It does us well to beware the loyalty pledge. We shouldn’t have to prove or provide personal statements of faith, especially religious statmements, to be a part of our society. It is crucial that we remember that as we finally see the finish line to this seemingly endless political race. There are those out there who would find it very easy to cross the line into loyalty pledges, professions of religious alignment, and more, if they haven’t called for them already.
However, it does us well to remember fundamental values of our society, in a formal statement. We do this allt he time, publically and powerfully. Secular wedding vows. Citizenship oaths. Testifying in court. Ki Tavo reminds us to state clearly who we are, where we came from, what we believe in, and how those values permeate our daily lives, and our unending gratitude for the bounty we enjoy.