Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tavo
Over the last three weeks I have devoted time each day to posting (on Facebook) three things for which I am grateful. It is part of a self-imposed 30 day challenge. I have written about teachers, friends, my family, greek yogurt, my dog, nature, and a host of other things. Some are the things that changed my life, while others are things that made my day. Yes, there are sermons hidden in each post, and I guess that this may be the first thing on tomorrow’s post: that posting has opened my eyes to lots of sermon fodder. I have made sure that each is upbeat … even yesterday’s added-on piece (day 21a).
I have gotten a lot of great feedback on subjects of which I wrote, and I have seen several of my Facebook friends replicate the exercise with their own lists. This is all wonderful. Yesterday, though, I received a personal note from someone who expressed angst and concerns over the exercise. “With all of the news, and with the reminder of what happened on 9/11 just a decade plus ago, how can you write about how good the world is? Your world may be, but … have you no sense of compassion for those of us who are aching?”
I certainly was taken aback. As I thought and reflected, my first response was to be appreciative that this person actually read my posts. I was also appreciative that this person wrote me to share deeply held concerns. Ultimately, though, I knew that I had to respond to the expressed angst. SO, as I looked at this Week’s Torah portion, I saw what I have normally seen as a fairly mundane text in a new way.
The Bikkurim (Deuteronomy 26:2) –the first fruit offerings are written in a fairly straightforward way. My take has always been that, even in a world where there are no pilgrimage holidays any more, one is always commanded to give and do his/her best … first.
Maimonides argued that we should always do a little more for others than we do for ourselves because gifts should always elevate both the giver and receiver. “Everything that is for the sake of God should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than their own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, they should be fed of the best and sweetest from the table. When one clothes the naked, they should be clothed with the finest of clothes. Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, it should be the finest possessions that are sanctified; as it is written (Leviticus 3:16), ‘The choicest to God.'”
The late Lubavitcher Rebbe added something absolutely prophetic: “The rule, ‘the choicest to God,’ applies in all areas of life. In devoting the ‘first-ripened fruits’ of one’s life to God, a person, in effect, is saying: ‘Here lies the focus of my existence. Quantitatively, this may represent but a small part of what I am and have; but the purpose of everything else I do and possess is to enable this percentile of spirit to rise above my matter-clogged life.”
While we are not allowed to in anyway ignore our own needs, we have to remember that our first obligation is to maintain each other’s dignity. Tzedakah comes first.
My best response to the person who wrote me is that for all the reasons he wrote … I had to accept this challenge and post every day. I am not oblivious to the horrific news. I had not forgotten what happened on 9/11. I read about ISIS with horror every day. The growing anti-semitism that seems to be on the rise is alarming. The rise of gangs in America, the reality that the neighborhood I just moved from has been the scene of some horrific violence, the worry over where our homeless will go during the winter for shelter … these things are very real and occupy a whole lot of my time and energy, and I work hard to heal what little piece of the problem that I can.
If I do not stop to offer my choicest fruits–the pieces by which I want to be defined on a regular basis–then I will get lost. That I start each day with this posting sets the tone for my day, and for the day of those who read them early … and may mean I have to continue … if even just for me.
We are all on journeys of faith, hoping to find ways to focus on celebrating life … and ways through we can express our celebration. None of this denies the real world. None of this calls on me to ignore the real world. All of this absolutely helps me to maintain the hope and the energy necessary to stay the course … grow the commitment to work on changing the world that is today into the world for which I pray.