Parshat Ki Tavo is a description of entering the land, that is Israel, and begins by describing the annual mitzvah for the farmers of Israel to bring their bikurim, or first fruits, to the Kohen (priest) in the Temple. Also there is a description of how stones shall be found and Torah written on them. Following a recounting of the wonderful blessings that God will bestow upon the Jewish people for remaining faithful, Moses gives a chilling prophecy of what will befall the Jewish people for not following the Torah. Known as the tochachah (admonition), Moses graphically describes the horrible destruction that would come to pass if we stray from God.
Ki Tavo tells us to get into action, it plays out at the margin between curses and blessings, chaos theory in action if you will. A very simplistic definition, based on Donahue's explanation, is that chaos theory is a study of unstable aperiodic behavior in deterministic nonlinear dynamical systems. Aperiodic behavior never repeats and it continues to manifest the effects of any small perturbation; hence, any prediction of a future state in a given system that is aperiodic is impossible. Whether or not you understand this definition, and I understand it only in its most simplistic form, I see its application to Torah, and to Ki Tavo in particular.
The blessings and curses are listed as a result of behaviors. Although the curses are pronounced for seemingly specific actions, in the case of blessings, behaviors are not spelled out, one is simply to observe faithfully the teachings. Thus, receiving a blessing or a curse by performing any specific action cannot be predicted. Torah is not temporal, Judaism manifests the effects of perturbations, and since the teachings are ambiguous, I describe the action of Ki Tavo as being at the margin of the curses and blessings. That is why taking action, and thereby, risks, I believe is the lesson of this parsha.
Being Jewish has always been a risky occupation. Besides the risks of the responses and reactions of the external world, very much on our minds right now, there are personal and internal risks - of choosing to do the right thing, when for so much of our lives, we do not know what the right thing is. We do not know what the outcomes of our actions may be. The future of our actions is unpredictable.
Let's take the simplest of the curses "Cursed be he who insults his father or mother." How are we to know what insults our mother or father? For instance, it is accepted in our society that when elders become too disabled, whether from physical deterioration or mental incapacity, to maintain a home, they are institutionalized, even though a parent may protest at length-and even revile us for our decision. What is the proper Jewish action? Is giving a parent a safe place to live with adequate supervision and activities that a working adult child cannot provide an insult? Or a necessity? Or even a blessing and a joy, for the elder, for the family, maybe even for the institution? One can't know, at least not in one's own lifetime, the real outcomes of such an action.
That's why I say being Jewish is risky. We have to make our decisions at the margin of the blessings and curses without full knowledge of where our behaviors or the perturbations of Judaism will lead us. We know what not to do, at least according to this list of curses, but as my example shows, even the most simple of the curses is not at all clear. The real question is what to do, what actions to take. I think Ki Tavo tells us not to stay on the margins, where perturbations of dynamical systems can confuse us about Jewish values. Ki Tavo says take action and not only that, to take action with joy, because it tells us if we are not joyful in our actions, God is not pleased, and the action has neither the right intent or nor the proper meaning God requires. We will have strayed from God. So we must try to make our lives for a blessing. Enter it, as God told the Jews to enter the land. Take risks. And give thanks, if not on stones, then at least by reciting the blessings. One joy we can all agree on. A bat mitzvah is for a blessing.