Episode 3 of Rabbi Talk
is out and today we discuss gratitude and focusing on this week’s Torah Portion Ki Tavo
. Below is my drash for the episode.
Each morning when we wake up, we have a choice; we can either say Oy!
This day sucks, or we can say wow! How awesome is this day? How blessed we are to wake up each day and how blessed we are as Jews. Whenever we pray, whenever we enter a sanctuary, we sing Ma Tovu,
a reminder of how lucky we are to be Jewish. How good it is to be part of the eternal neverending story of the Jewish people. Every morning when I wake up, I offer a blessing of gratitude, and our liturgy is full of blessings that remind us to be grateful; one example:
Modeh/Modah ani lefanekha melekh/ruach chai vekayam shehecḥezarta bi nishmahti b'cḥemlah, rabah emunatekha.
A blessing that I like to translate as
I give thanks before You, for You have restored my soul, and You God are awesome! For me, this blessing also reminds me to be grateful for another day on this earth.
All of this brings me to this week’s Torah portion Ki Tavo, a Torah portion that reminds us to offer gratitude for the things we have.
Moses instructs the Israelites to appreciate and celebrate their harvest that produces a ton of fresh food. He tells them to be thankful for what they have and to be grateful for how far they have come. He goes a step further by telling them to ritualize their gratitude, so they will always remember where they came from and to look out for folks in need. Moses tells them to take some of every first fruit from the soil, put it in the basket, and take it to the priest in charge at the time. The priest will take the basket, and the Israelite is then to recite the following words to the priest.
“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.” (Deuteronomy 26:5)
In the 12th century, Moses Maimonides
, in his book The Guide of the Perplexed, says this ritual is the basis for generosity and humility. Maimonides says, “Offering the first fruits of the harvest is a way to accustom people to be generous and a means of limiting the human appetite for more and more and more. Bringing the first fruits and reciting the prayer promotes humility.”
I know many of us are ready to see the end of this very strange year and a half and are awaiting the beginning of a fresh start and thinking perhaps 2022 will be a better year. Rosh Hashanah gives us an earlier opportunity to celebrate a new year. I don’t know what you’re hoping for this new year, but I’m praying that we’ll all know the spirit of generosity. And we will all be reminded to be more humble and to have a sense of empathy for those who are suffering around us, and if you don’t notice people are suffering around us, it’s because you have your eyes shut and your ears covered. As we begin to say goodbye to 5781 and enter 5782, let Ki Tavo remind us to ground ourselves in humility and generosity and to remember how blessed we are to be the Jewish people.