Thursday, September 11, 2014

“He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him. — Deuteronomy 26:9–10

The Torah portion for this week is Ki Tavo, which means “when you have entered,” from Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 60:1–22.

As part of the ceremony of bringing the firstfruits to God that is mentioned in this week’s reading, the Israelites would recount how they cried out to God when they were enslaved in Egypt and He saved them. The declaration ended by affirming that God brought the Israelites to the land of Israel, a good land flowing with milk and honey, and that the fruits being brought were a product of the land. These verses are a statement of gratitude — gratitude for salvation, for God’s kindness, and for all life’s many blessings.

The concept of gratitude is central to Judaism. It is so elemental that the very word “Judah” from where the term “Jew” is derived, is a form of the Hebrew word that means “thank you.” We have to be grateful at all times for all things. In fact, a Jew is required to say no less than 100 blessings of thanks every day!

All this is basic to Jewish worship of God. However, recent events in Israel raised the concept of gratitude to a whole new level. On June 12, 2014, three Israeli boys on their way home from school were kidnapped and subsequently murdered by Hamas terrorists. For 18 days, while it was uncertain whether the boys were dead or alive, people from all around the world came together in love and solidarity. At the funeral of her son, Rachel Frankel expressed her gratitude while eulogizing her 16-year-old boy. She thanked the police, the army, and government for finding the bodies of the boys, something she did not take for granted.

Then she actually said these words: “From the very first day [of this ordeal], we said to ourselves that even if this ends badly we are still the recipients of God’s benevolent blessings; we are still so very fortunate.” Rachel went on to speak of her wonderful family, friends, and nation. In the midst of the deepest pain anyone can imagine, gratitude was still on her lips.

Friends, if Rachel Frankel can recognize her blessings in the midst of such tragedy, how much more should we recognize our many blessings. As the practice of bringing the firstfruits teaches us, we must never take any of our blessings for granted. We must be thankful for them and acknowledge them as gifts from God.

Today, offer your heartfelt thanks to God. Think particularly about the things that we take for granted most of the time: the people around us, the time we have with our loved ones, and that we live in a country where we are free. As King David wrote thousands of years ago,“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” (Psalm 136:1). Amen!

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

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