Ki Tavo: Rejoicing Together

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Ki Tavo

“Then you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you.” (D’varim/ Deuteronomy 26:11)

Good morning!

Sorry for not sending out Torah commentaries the past two weeks; the end of the summer kind of caught up with me and the time slipped away. But we’re back and ready to learn! This week’s Torah portion begins with the mitzvah of bikkurim, or first-fruits. The basic idea is that during the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, a basket of produce was brought to the Temple and given to a priest, who sets it by the altar while the pilgrim recites a short paragraph recalling the history of Israel from the days of Jacob, through the slavery in Egypt, to the present day giving of thanks in Jerusalem.

What’s interesting about this mitzvah is the ordering of the ritual: first one brought the basket, then the recitation of history, which linked one’s own life to that of the Jewish people, and then the rejoicing and sharing, as in the verse above, with the stranger and the Levite. First is the universal experience of gratitude: God gave us this blessing of the land. Then the linking of an individual life with the history and destiny of the people Israel; my life, my blessing, my good fortune, is part of something larger than myself. I am not a solitary actor alone in the world, but part of a community; if I have blessing, it is because I am embedded in the lives of those that came before and those who are not yet born.

How does the ritual of the first fruits conclude? By actualizing this realization of connection in sharing with others; rejoicing with the Levite (who has no share in the land) and the stranger (who not only has no share in the land, but is not yet fully part of the fabric of society) is how we show that we truly understand that the blessings of our lives are not for our own pleasure and ego-gratification but are given for the purpose of expanding our very sense of self. To be Jewish (or perhaps religious in any tradition) is to live knowing that we are interdependent, unable to be fully human all on our own. If we are part of a people whose essence is that we were once slaves but are now free, then we make that insight real by living generously, com passionately, with zeal for both justice and mercy. Knowing our history is humbling; living our lives in relationship is glorious; knowing that we are some future generation’s ancestors sets our perspective towards the things that really matter. Giving to others lifts our spiritual horizons, away from the needs of the self; it is the very act of living.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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