Ki Tavo and a Declaration For All Time
In just a few weeks we will pay homage to our loved ones; fondly remembering them during the Yom Kippur Yizkor. In the midst of an all-day self-reflection, we express extreme gratitude for the cherished people, whose dedication and self-sacrifice enhanced our lives. Our Yizkor expressions of appreciation take their cue from four, distinct sentences in our Shabbat Torah reading.
Ki Tavo sets the stage for b’nai yisrael to (finally!) enter their new homeland. Moses instructs the people about a future time when they will plant and eventually reap their first fruits and vegetables in the Land of Israel. Rather than casually enjoying these fruits at home, the proud farmers must bring them to the Temple in Jerusalem and consume them on Temple grounds. Before eating however, the people would make a declaration of thanksgiving and -only then-could they eat their first produce (bikkurim in Hebrew). The first fruit declaration of thanksgiving consists of four sentences we have incorporated into our Passover Seder: Recalling the wandering of Jacob, his journey to Egypt, the years of oppressive slavery in Egypt and the redemption and freedom of the Israelites by virtue of God’s mighty hand.
Today, there is no Temple in Jerusalem. The bikkurim ceremony of old is no longer mandatory. Nevertheless, in every Jewish ritual, celebration, and value, we acknowledge our forebears; who struggled, sacrificed-often at the cost of their lives- to ensure that one day Jewish farmers could plant and reap in a free, secure and independent Israel. When we read this Shabbat about the farmers’ declaration, we think appreciatively about all the generations of Jews, who fought mightily to create and sustain a Jewish homeland and an Am Yisrael.
Regarding continuity and appreciation, there is much to address about Israel’s election of a Prime Minister. First, Israelis, like Americans, maintain the right to exercise their free will in selecting their leaders. Regardless of the outcome and all its nuances, there is a bigger picture. Generations of Jews, from the Jews oppressed in Egypt to victims of the Crusades to the millions martyred by Hitler, sacrificed their lives so that we can survive as a Jewish people long into the future. That sacrifice includes the honor of watching citizens of the democratic State of Israel exercise their right to vote for a government of its choice, no matter how flawed, fragmented or (even) dysfunctional. The farmer’s declaration we read this Shabbat motivates us to honor Jews of the past for enabling us to witness-in the spirit of other democratic nations- the typical insanity, controversy and confusion of an election process and its aftermath.
Israel’s immediate political future is uncertain. For the opportunity to have a future however, I say Shehecheyanu.