Ki Tavo Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
Written by king David after the prophet Nathan confronts him concerning his adultery with Bathsheba, Psalm 51 is one of the most well-known confessions of sin in Scripture. As such, it shows us what true confession and repentance looks like. Notice that David’s main focus isn’t necessarily that HaShem would get him out of the mess he got himself into. That request is there, to be sure, but the cry of David’s heart, the overwhelming longing of his soul, is that his sin would be forgiven and sweet fellowship with HaShem restored. Along with this, David reveals what HaShem is seeking of him, and consequently, of us as well.
Psalm 51:18-19 states: "For you don't want sacrifices, or I would give them; you don't take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice to G-d is a broken spirit; G-d, you won't spurn a broken, chastened heart." In this case, the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) version better reflects the Hebrew of verse 19: "The sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O G-d, Thou wilt not despise." If nothing else, we can see that the offerings as prescribed by Torah have always been a heart issue. Consider, too, that king David’s confession pertains to adultery and murder, two sins for which no offering delineated in Torah is efficacious. According to Leviticus 20:10 and Numbers 35:16-21, he is twice deserving of the death penalty. Doubtless, David appeals purely to HaShem’s mercy and grace. Perhaps he is also aware of the Offering which would be made on his behalf one day (see Psalm 22). Bearing all of this in mind, there is still one quality HaShem is looking for.
Continuing the theme found in Psalm 32, HaShem is seeking a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. Isaiah 57:15 says: "For thus says the High, Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy: "I live in the high and holy place but also with the broken and humble, in order to revive the spirit of the humble and revive the hearts of the broken ones." He Who is the High and heavenly One makes His home with the humble in spirit and the shattered in soul. This can be either comforting or disconcerting, and for most of us, it’s a little bit of both.
When we find ourselves in a place of brokenness, when we’ve come to the end of ourselves, when our sin has found us out, and we are faced with its stark consequences, when we finally surrender and cry out for mercy, then HaShem draws near and brings us close to Himself. Conversely, when we have tasted the goodness of G-d, and we long to know Him in a deeper and fuller way, we will find Him living with the humble and hurting in need of healing. King David, in fact, expresses this reality, too, when he says: "Then I will teach the wicked your ways, and sinners will return to you." As we approach the High Holy Days, taking stock of our own lives, let us be humble enough to honestly and sincerely confess our sins, and reach out in genuine compassion to those HaShem brings our way. If we do, we will begin to experience the Presence of G-d for which we hunger.
As it is written: ""How blessed are the poor in spirit! for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. How blessed are those who mourn! for they will be comforted. How blessed are the meek! for they will inherit the Land! How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! for they will be filled. How blessed are those who show mercy! for they will be shown mercy. How blessed are the pure in heart! for they will see G-d." (Matthew 5:3-8) G-d resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; Psalm 138:6; 1 Peter 5:5).