Ari Sacher

“Public Private Partnership” Parashat Ki Tavo 5778

Recently I have been working with something called a “Public Private Partnership (PPP)”. PPP’s are all the rage, today. Each PPP has its own flavour but they all share the same basic structure. A PPP takes a public entity, like the local Sewage Company, and partners it with a private company often specializing in management. The goal is to leverage the best traits from the two entities. So while the public entity is typically cumbersome and more than likely riddled with family politics and 19th century bureaucracy, it has a tremendous amount of local influence and legal reach. And while the private company is typically lean, hungry and efficient, it will often become stuck in political red tape. By merging the two entities, we hope to get the best of both worlds, a goal that is admittedly not always achievable. PPP’s remind me of a story told about George Bernard Shaw, who was once introduced to a young, beautiful actress. She said to him, “Imagine what would happen if we had children with your brains and my beauty?” to which he replied, “Yes, but imagine what would happen if we had children with your brains and my beauty?”

What does a Public Private Partnership have to do with Parashat Ki Tavo? A whole lot, in fact. Parashat Ki Tavo discusses a future event in which all of Am Yisrael will climb Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival[1], where they will recite a litany of blessings and curses. The Torah enumerates twelve curses, one for each tribe. These curses cover a gamut of major infractions, including idolatry, adultery, and bestiality. Both the Rashbam and the Ibn Ezra attempt to isolate a common denominator between the curses and both arrive at the same conclusion: the curses target actions that are typically committed in private. For instance, one of the curses says [Devarim 27:15] “Cursed is a person who fashions an idol… and who worships it in private”. A person who commits idolatry in the presence of two witnesses is put to death by the court. The curse is aimed at the person who worships idols behind closed doors in the privacy of his own home. Similarly, the Torah curses a person [Devarim 17:24] “who hits his friend in private”. Rav J.B. Soloveichik explains that by cursing acts committed in secrecy, the Torah is “stressing the unacceptability of hypocrisy in law – to pretend to behave according to the law in public, but to violate it in private”.

Sins committed in secrecy have traditionally raised the ire of the Sages. In order for a mammal to be kosher, it must have split hooves and it must chew its cud. The existence of only one of these signs is insufficient to render the animal kosher. In fact, one sign is worse than no signs at all. The only mammal in the world that has split hooves but does not chew its cud is the pig, the epitome of a non-kosher animal. The Midrash, as brought by Rashi on his explanation of Bereishit [26:4], takes the pig to task by accusing it of presenting itself as a kosher animal via its external characteristics, while it is, in fact, diverting our attention from its internal, non-kosher, characteristics. Another Midrash compares the Roman Empire to a pig, presenting itself as modern, democratic, and humane, while in truth it was ethically regressive, fascist, and committed acts of unparalleled cruelty. It is noteworthy that the Midrash compares Rome not to an animal that exhibits Roman traits – say some vicious carnivore like the wolf – but, rather, to an animal that exhibits Roman hypocrisy.

What about the public side of the PPP? The last part of Parashat Ki Tavo consists of the “tochecha” – “admonition” – an inventory of horrific curses that will and have befallen Am Yisrael if we fail to keep the Torah[2]. The tochecha is preceded by a short list of blessings that we will merit if we keep the Torah. One of these blessings promises [Devarim 27:10] “The Nations of the World will see that Hashem’s name is called upon you and they will fear you”. How will they see that Hashem’s name is “called upon us”? The Talmud in Tractate Berachot [6a] teaches that the Torah is referring to the tefillin of the head. Rashi and Tosafot disagree as to why specifically wearing the tefillin of the head is more indicative of Hashem’s name than wearing the tefillin of the arm, or the performance of any other mitzvah, for that matter. Rashi explains that the tefillin of the head contain the letters shin and dalet, two of the three letters of the Divine name “Sha-dai”. The shin is etched into the box (bayit) of the tefillin while the dalet is found in the knot behind the head[3]. According to this interpretation, the verse is interpreted according to its most simple meaning: Hashem’s name is inscribed upon the daily Jewish prayer uniform. When the Nations of the World see that uniform, they see Hashem’s name. Tosafot disagree with Rashi’s interpretation. Tosafot assert that the reason that Hashem’s name is associated with the tefillin of the head is because the tefillin of the head is visible for all to see[4], as opposed to the tefillin of the arm, which is hidden underneath one’s sleave[5]. Tosafot assert that the mere fact that the Nations of the World can see the tefillin of the head will cause them to fear Am Yisrael.

How does putting on tefillin cause the Nations of the World to fear us? Here is one possible way: In January 2010, a Republic Airlines flight from New York to Louisville was diverted to Philadelphia when a flight attendant “became suspicious” of a teenager putting a “rectangular black box” on his forehead. The teenager and his 16-year-old sister were taken in for questioning. The FBI agent in charge admitted, “They were very cooperative. They were dressed like normal teenagers, except he had a yarmulke on”. Yeah, right. But there is another way that tefillin strike fear into the hearts of men: I do a fair amount of traveling and I believe that it is fair to say that there is nothing in the world that I find more uncomfortable than putting on tefillin on an airplane or in an airport. In the old days, when people used to daven in a minyan at the back of the plane[6] and it was possible to blend in with the throng of people, it was somehow bearable. But when you’re there by yourself, convinced that the entire world is staring at you, it is daunting. I remember last year at the Cathay lounge at the Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong looking for an unobtrusive place where I could pray. After an extensive search, I found a corner restaurant that, at that early hour of the morning, had not yet opened. I located a corner table, took out my tallit and tefillin and got to work. Less than two minutes passed when I was joined by another person who took out his tallit and tefillin and got to work. Even though we were looking for a modicum of privacy, the mere fact that we were willing to put on tefillin in a hyper-public domain, no matter what kind of gawking it might cause, would make any onlooker realize that there was nothing more important to the two of us than praying to our God in the way that we were commanded. This behaviour might not instil “fear” as in “fright”, but it should definitely instil “fear” as in “awe”.

In ten days, on Rosh Hashanah, we will be crowning Hashem as King of the Universe. By doing so, we will be entering into the most critical Public Private Partnership of our lives. The rules to this PPP are simple: We must live our private lives as if we are standing before the King of Kings and we must live our public lives as if we are standing alone with the King of Kings. The kind of year we will merit depends on our keeping our part of the partnership.


Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, and Tzvi ben Shoshana.

[1] The modern city of Shechem (Nablus) is located between these two mountains.

[2] The Torah contains two tochechot, one in Parashat Bechukotai and one in Parashat Ki Tavo. Our Sages identify the first tochecha to the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash and the second tochecha with the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash.

[3] This is not necessarily true. According to the custom followed by my family, the knot behind the head is shaped like a square.

[4] The Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chaim 27:11] indicates that it is a good engineering practice for the tefillin of the head to be visible for all to see.

[5] The reason for this is the verse [Shemot 13:9] “[The tefillin] shall be for you a sign on your arm”. The Torah can be understood as saying that “The tefillin… on your arm” should be a sign for (only) you and for nobody else, hence they should be covered. See a fascinating response by Rav Nachum Rabinovich on putting tefillin over a tattoo at

[6] Praying with a minyan on an airplane is slowly being relegated to history books, even on El Al. More and more Rabbis are ruling that the ensuing melee causes more damage, in the form of desecration of Hashem’s name, than the good achieved by praying with a minyan.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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