Torah Reading for Week of August 30 – September 5, 2020
By Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, PhD, AJRCA President
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
In this week’s Torah Portion, Ki Tavo, we have some important psycho-spiritual lessons that can enhance our lives. We are charged to keep the commandments of the First Fruits, to bring them to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a sign of gratitude to G-d that the efforts of our labor was successful and thus the expression of gratitude is an extension of our joy. The pomp and ceremony of the march of thousands together to Jerusalem, being greeted and welcomed along the way by masses of people, and finally culminating with greetings of song and dance by the Priests of the Temple as they reached Jerusalem, reminds me in some way of a great, celebratory rock concert, or a celebration of a great victory in a Sporting event when the team is invited to the White House with pomp and ceremony!
A curious and interesting fact about the Bikkurim (First Fruits) is the set prayer recited at the offering of the first fruits. It recounts the highlights of our history starting with ‘Our father who was a wandering Aramean,’ until we reached the land after being liberated from bondage in Egypt. This same statement also serves as the core of the Haggadah on Pesach, comprising the tale of our journey to freedom. The fact that our Rabbis ordained the same prayer, the same text, for the two events comes to tell us that freedom can only be fully experienced, when one can finally point to the manifestation of the first fruit of our labor after our long journey and toil to achieve our goal. What a joy it is then when we can actually bask in our ‘victory’ and we can fully express joy and gratitude to our Creator.
The First Fruit is the concrete proof that the actuality of freedom and achievement has taken place. The gift of G-d and the toil of humans combined produces our joy. JOY IS WHAT COMES SPONTANEOUSLY WHEN ONE LIVES TO SEE THE FIRST FRUIT OF ONE’S LABOR. So then why then does the Torah ordain it as a LAW, a commandment that states ‘And you shall REJOICE with all the good that the Lord has given you (verse 11).’ Our Sages explain, because all too often we are not ready to rejoice when good comes to us, as much as we are ready to complain and lament when the reverse happens. When we can live from this level of gratitude for G-d’s eternal providence, we are truly joyous and free, and thus we recite this prayer on Pesach our holiday of freedom.
Joy is actually mandated in our Torah portion as the central requisite demanded by G-d in our practice as ‘keepers of the law.’ For in a shocking verse in (chapter 28:47) amongst all the verses of curses that our Torah portion accentuates, G-d reveals the true reason that these curses were brought upon the Jewish people the treasured people of G-d! The verse states the REASON IS: “Because you did not serve the Lord your G-d with JOY and a full heart (gratitude), out of the abundance of everything that you have received.” So not only is the observance of the commandments required, but they must be done with joy, rather than out of rote as docile servants. True service of the heart leads to transformation, to an awakening of all the gifts that G-d has bestowed upon us, it leads to consistent joy. A person who still lives in the world of ego and selfishness, albeit observing the commandments is not blessed in the eyes of G-d and can never reach true joy. A person who prides him/herself on his/her possessions that s/he regards as his/hers alone, and does not feel responsible to anyone else for them, will never be satisfied because s/he will always want more than s/he has; this is living from the realm of ego and materialistic proclivity. But someone who views his/her possessions as an opportunity to do more mitzvoth will always be satisfied, because s/he recognizes that s/he has literally everything s/he needs. This was Moses’ warning to the Jews. If you are not happy when you serve Hashem, it is because your attitude is a material one; you think that your property is yours to do as you please, and you become attached to it as your central love and fulfillment. With such an attitude you will never be satisfied with what you have and take out your anger at Hashem. You will always want more. You had everything (kol) you needed, but you want more (rov kol) an abundance of everything because you are innately not satisfied, not secure, and look at the source of your security in the material rather than in Hashem. This is the source of all curses! Living from joy is a sign that we are connected to Soul, within and Above. May we all be blessed to achieve this glorious level of gratitude and joy! Amen.