The very name of the Torah portion Ki Tavo evokes a central theme: “When you come into the land,” the translation of “ki tavo el ha-aretz,” immediately presents us with a question of boundaries. The land of Israel is, of course, bounded–by the river Jordan on the east, by the Mediterranean Sea on the west. As soon as the Israelites enter into the land, their lives will change. A whole host of commandments and obligations which had heretofore been mental exercises will now be in true political force: the agricultural laws of eretz Yisrael, which ultimately form the basis of an entire economic system. In modern times, these specific issues, along with the greater issues of what it means to enter into the land that is ours, have been recapitulated with the success of Zionism.

Central to this question of coming into the land is a related concept, that of home. Moses beautifully blesses the Israelites with success if they will follow God’s law: “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field… Blessed shall you be in your coming, and blessed shall you be in your going.” (Deut. 28: 3, 6) The commentators offer a number of approaches to understanding what these blessings hold. But I want to focus on a comment of Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, author of the twentieth century work Torah Temimah, who raises a question for us: “Most plainly, the verse should have been written thus: ‘Blessed will you be in your going, and blessed will you be in your coming.’ For a person first goes out of his home to the field, and afterwards comes home to his house.” (Torah Temimah Deut. 28:9)

Rabbi Epstein offers us a question that is so basic we might have missed it: How do we think of home? Is home the place we go from, or is home the place we go to? Of course, on a certain level this is an academic question: home is the place we sleep at night, it is the beginning and the end of our daily journey. But if we push further, we come to a very salient question in our own lives: In the relationship between home and work, between our house and our field, which is primary?

In our day and age, this question has become even more complicated, because the relationship between city and countryside has been altered. In the times of the Torah and the Talmud, cities had walls–boundaries–and it was easy to tell where the city ended and where the field began. In our day and age, when we have suburbs and exurbs, when our cities no longer have gates, it is much harder to tell where the boundary lies. Likewise, our work comes home with us, and our home goes to work with us. Our Blackberries and iPhones work in two directions.

We sometimes like to think that modernity has fundamentally changed the relationship of people with their work, that our homes and workplaces have somehow become violently separated in the last three hundred years. But Ki Tavo reminds us that these issues are actually quite old, that we have, for a long time, wrestled with how to successfully integrate the different parts of our lives. The key, it seems to me, is not searching for balance, but rather living with integrity–bringing together work and home, city and field, in a life of blessing.

Shabbat shalom.

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