Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Ki Tavo

As we get ready for the High Holy Days, Jews around the world prepare to spend a lot of time in the synagogue; more time than any other time in the year. Jews who do not belong to a synagogue find the need to be in one on these days. They are called the “Days of Awe,” but for so many, they are the days of guilt and dread. There is something about these days that compel us to confess and to turn … turn from our callousness and complacency and return to the path of righteousness.

This week’s Torah portion sets the tone. This week, we read about the rebukes due us from God, if we fail to do what God expects us to do. From this text (and many like it) we learn the phrase, “the fear of God.”

WAIT! STOP! Why are we always beating ourselves up and feeling guilty? We are not perfect. We are not expected to be perfect. Our innate imperfection is why we have atonement prayers and rituals that help clean the slate allowing us new beginnings. In this week’s text, we find a truth that we too often ignore or dismiss. We earned the rebuke because “because you did not serve your God, with joy and with gladness of heart, when you had everything.” Certainly, one can read this to mean that in our “good times,” we gave no credit to God. Therefore, God is upset. The Talmud gives us a different take on the text. Suffer when we fail to realize how much we have for which to be joyful. We get so stuck in seeing the difficult and negative that we forget our many blessings. When we fail to celebrate blessings, we lose them (or at least lose touch with their power).

For the upcoming holy days, we need to focus on changing and turning from our transgressive behaviors. We also, and of equal importance, need to celebrate the many places in which we feel blessed and in which we return these blessings. Yes, part of our atonement must be for not celebrating enough.

Think about the lives you touch every day; their worlds would be diminished without you. Heaven and Earth touch when we enter each other’s lives, and yet, too often we take extraordinarily impactful exchanges for granted. So caught up in ourselves, we often judge people’s value not on the heart with which they give, but by the way their piece fits into our predisposed puzzle. We don’t serve with enough joy to appreciate the blessings that stand right before our eyes. In turn, we also temper our own joy of service, feeling diminished when someone doesn’t appreciate our best gifts. Where we bring only our diminished selves into the work of service, there is no joy and no service with celebration.

This holy day season is a time for change. If we appreciated each other more (and appreciated ourselves more), we would spend less energy transgressing each other. If we felt better about ourselves, we would feel freer to give of ourselves, not basing our own worth on someone else’s narrow vision. Five times this Shabbat: thank someone for something that you have not appropriately acknowledged. Five times this Shabbat: do something for someone because you feel it is right, even if they don’t express appreciation. Shabbat Shalom.