With the High Holy Days 5776 soon upon us, how reflective of their grateful spirit and challenging thrust is this Parasha!
The Israelites are taught that re-entering the Promised Land is more than a physical act. At the core of this great adventure is a spiritual drama calling for giving thanks through a heartfelt thanksgiving, to the God who led Israel from the diverse confines of Egypt’s House of Bondage to freedom’s open promise and the underlying premise of Sinai’s responsibility.
The expected offering to the priest from the bounty of “a land flowing with milk and honey” and the consecrated field’s labor, is designed as an uplifting recognition of divine benevolence that should not go unnoticed, but be internalized for generations to come. It becomes a humbling act of acknowledging an individual’s and a people’s limitations – particularly for a nation covenanted to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
However, given the human proclivity to take blessings for granted and put aside the true record of one’s accomplishments and failings for short-term self-aggrandizement, implicit in the Israelites’ approaching the priest with earthly goods is a remembrance of these gifts’ divine origin which assumes even fuller significance while reciting the liberation saga of the Exodus. A liberation which is also from our own petty narrowness and pagan blindness to the larger scene of the human enterprise, in which God is a senior partner.
It is precisely in the moment of peak rejoicing of the harvest’s fruitful yield that the celebrating Israelites are commanded to recall trying beginnings of their people’s sojourn and the subsequent suffering in the crucible of Egyptian tyranny; lest a journey of forgetfulness and neglect ensues with disastrous consequences.
It is difficult, though, to reconcile the lyrically tender words, so very relevant at this trying time, “Hashkifa mimon kodschech a min-hashamayim uvarech et-amcha et-Yisrael.” (“Behold from the heights of your holy abode, from heaven and bless Your people, Israel…”), to the extraordinarily harsh and indescribable punishments to befall us for straying from God’s Covenant.
On the threshold of a New Year, may we pledge to pursue in tandem with the Most High the covenant’s loving, yet demanding agenda for our sake, as well as that of the Keeper of our lives.
Shana Tova of shalom’s sweet blessings of healing, hope, and harmony!
—Rabbi Israel Zoberman, Congregation Beth Chaverim