Parashat Ki Tavo: September 18, 2019
As parents, we try to learn from the vast wisdom of others and to teach our children to behave with care and compassion. I remember the years, not too long ago, when we helped our young children learn the word ‘share.' Fearing that their developing maturity would prompt long, scream-filled battles with their older siblings while claiming, “Mine!” we thought “Share” would be the best response. Much to our surprise, they took to the word beautifully, and now use the word “Share” every time they really want to say, “Mine!”
“Share! Share! Share!” Has a whole new ring to it in our house these days. We're wondering if they will practice what they've been taught all along as they grow into adulthood.
Learning to share is the great challenge of two year olds. Sometimes the lesson even carries forward into adulthood. To share with others is a blessing. That is why this week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, offers generous reminders to share our blessings wherever we find them. We are taught, “You shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the LORD your God has bestowed upon you and your household.” (26:11)
This command comes in conclusion to the moving ritual of bringing first fruits to the Temple in ancient Israel. A few distinct features of this mitzvah emerge. First is the commandment to simply enjoy the fruit. Bringing offerings to God is not a matter of self-deprivation. We are blessed in our lives, often with more than we need and deserve. Our command is to enjoy these blessings as they are given to us. Don't minimize this. Enjoy your blessings - God knows they are precious.
Second, and taken from the words of 15th century Polish teacher, Yitzhak ben Moshe Arama, known as the Akeidat Yitzhak, where he teaches, “The whole idea of bringing your first fruits is to rid you of the idea that it is "your land," and to bring you to the realization that it is "the land that the Lord your God gives you." What we have produced is the culmination of our devotion, commitment, and effort. We can claim responsibility for that which we have produced and enjoy the fruits of our labors.
Lastly, and perhaps more important, is that we must enjoy the fruits with the priest and the stranger. (Don't worry, rabbis and cantors aren't priests!) Sharing with the priest offers us an opportunity to enjoy our blessings in community. The priest is a conduit and mirror for God's presence in our lives. The priest symbolizes the communal vision of sharing our bounty with God. The priest is familiar - he's mishpacha.
The greater challenge is in sharing with the stranger. You can feel the tension between “Share!” and “Mine!” throbbing. Which stranger? What for? Who invited them? We're reminded that the stranger is also the mirror and conduit for God's blessings. Traditional commentators point out that our gesture to the stranger is the compassionate response to being strangers in Egypt. Today, sharing our bounty with strangers can mean anyone from the newcomer to our synagogue community, to the needy on the streets outside our homes, even strangers in the land of Israel. Enjoying your blessings with the stranger is enjoying your blessings with God as well.
Admittedly, our children understand sharing pretty well, even if it takes a few times to correct their definitions from time to time. Our Torah guides us well, reminding us that even we can use a correction of definitions when we find more blessings than we deserve in our midst.