Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Remember the time you packed up the car for a family vacation? When you arrived at your vacation destination you probably shouted, “We made it!” So, imagine how the Israelites reacted when they reached the Promised Land after a long journey on foot. Just about to enter the Land, what do you think they shouted? In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26), we learn what the Israelites said when the Promised Land came into view.
Oddly, Torah doesn’t record immediately the Israelites’ shouts for joy; not even an end-zone-like shuffle on the other side of the Jordan. Rather, Torah records that their first instruction was to give thanks to God with offerings of their first fruits. They were instructed, “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage…you shall take some of the very first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land…put it in a basket…and go to the priest in charge and say to him, ‘I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to assign us.” Their second instruction was to recall the heritage of their ancestor, a fugitive Aramean, who went down to Egypt, and who, as a populous nation, was redeemed by God “by a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and awesome power.” And, only then, after giving thanks to God and acknowledging their past, were they instructed to celebrate, “You shall enjoy all the bounty that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you and your household” (Deuteronomy 26:11).
The order of events is important. We learn from them that we reach our destinations by virtue of strengths within and beyond us. To reach any destination should prompt us to give thanks, and if not to God, then at least to the pilot, the driver or the captain. But, giving thanks to God is appropriate, too; for, by virtue of the laws of physics that keep the plane aloft, and the good fortune that enables us to arrive safely, some thanks are due. Only then should the joy of arriving be celebrated. It recalls pictures of immigrants to Israel bending low to the ground and kissing the earth. They expressed their gratitude to be in the Holy Land before they ever took another step.
We arrive at many places that deserve our gratitude, too. We arrive at new insights, new loves, renewed healing and fresh courage. These are all reasons to feel grateful for the process that delivered us. Torah urges us to see them as gifts, and gifts are meant to be shared with others who are still seeking their own. A donation in honor or memory of a loved one to a worthwhile organization, for example, has been a longstanding Jewish custom.
Take a moment and ask yourself, how far have I come this past year? What are the fruits of my success? Who from my past mentored or enabled me to succeed? How can I give thanks to God and share my good fortune with others? And, finally, have I celebrated appropriately? Even if we only reached Shabbat, it’s a destination that deserves our thanks for the privilege of reflection, gratitude and peace.