Parashat Ki Tavo / פרשת כי־תבוא
Torah Portion: Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8
This week’s Torah reading offers an important lesson on gratitude. Speaking to the Israelites, Moses instructs them that, upon entering into the Land of Israel, they are to bring some of the first fruits of their soil in baskets to the Levites at a place of God’s choosing. Once they have set their offerings on the ground in front of the altar, they are to recite these words, which have become familiar to us through the Passover haggadah:
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. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me. (Deut. 26:6-10)
Through this ritual, the Israelites will express their gratitude to God for having brought them out of bondage to a place of safety in their own land. The words they will recite focus succinctly on the grace that God had bestowed upon them. With this gesture of thanksgiving, Israel will go on to thrive in the Holy Land.
Given Israel’s history of complaining about hardships throughout during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, how refreshing it is that the narrative Israel will recite focuses solely on the loving kindness that God has bestowed upon her. Before we credit the Israelites with a stark change of attitude, though, we should note that Moses prescribes the exact words they are to say. Moses doesn’t assume that his people will naturally set aside their troubles and wax sincerely in gratitude before God. He provides the script that he hopes will lead to the attitude adjustment that God desires of them.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had such a script in hand at times when we’re inclined to rant on about all our suffering, to run through a litany of all that we lack? My daughter recently melted down, proclaiming that she has the worst life of anyone in the world. After listening to what was upsetting her, my wife and I affirmed her feelings and then asked her about all the good things in her life. Soon enough, Katie saw that life was not nearly as bad as she imagined it just moments ago, and she was in a place where she could feel grateful for all she has, even if she didn’t lay a basket of fruit on the ground before our feet.
As the New Year approaches and we take stock of our lives, we should know that is alright to express our regrets and setbacks from the previous year. At the same time, however, we need to keep a sense of perspective, and balance the negative with the good. Should we be stuck in a dark place, unable to express gratitude for our bounty, we should seek out someone like Moses who can hand us a rosier script that is as true as the script we find coming out of our mouths. Sometimes we, like our ancestors, just need to be reminded how good life is in order to carry on and thrive in our own lands.