Good morning everyone. We’re going to start with a survey. Raise your hand and keep it up if you can answer yes to any of these questions:
Have you ever moved to a new house or a new city?
Have you ever switched to a new school or started a new job?
Have you ever gotten married or had children?
Have you ever started something new, something big, something that you weren’t quite sure how it would work out?
Okay, for everyone with their hands up, I have one more question. Was there any stress involved?
Why? Why were you stressed about moving, or about switching schools, or getting married? Because of the unknowns. When you start something new you don’t know every twist and turn your new venture is going to take. You have concerns about this and that. You’re worried about these and those and what might be, what could be, what should be, and what could go wrong. Some of you may question your own abilities, your own fortitude and perseverance. You might have doubts about the other people involved in your project. You know that we are only human, that we make mistakes, and that oftentimes things don’t go as planned.
In our parsha, in chapter 26 just before the portion that we read aloud earlier, the Israelites are given a first fruits ceremony to conduct after they’ve entered, possessed and settled the Land. The Israelites are about to end their wanderings and enter the Land of Israel. And it is a Promised Land—truly an eretz zavat chalav ud’vash, a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). So, they have a lot to look forward to. They’ll be able to settle down, build permanent homes, farms and businesses. But did you ever stop to think about what they were giving up by entering the Land and what their concerns might be? What were they worried about as they sat on the doorstep of this new life in the Land? Were they prepared for it? Were they ready? How would they live in this new land? How would they feed themselves? Remember, they haven’t had to raise their own crops in 40 years. They also haven’t had to sew new clothes or make new shoes. They’ll need to build homes and schools and businesses. They’ll need to plant and tend crops. They’ll need to do all sorts of things that they haven’t had to worry about for 40 years. Most of these things the current generation of Israelites have never in their lives had to do. So yeah, naturally there must have been some apprehension among the Israelites about entering this new Land.
I imagine Sam and Maggee, while excited about this new adventure they’re departing on together, also have some apprehension. Are they going to be able to live together harmoniously? Who’s sleeping on the left side of the bed and who on the right? Are they going to be able to make their partner happy? Are they going to find good jobs? Where are they ultimately going to build their life together? Will they go to synagogue, church or both? Are they going to be able to have kids and how will they raise them?... I could go on but you get my drift.
Whether we’re talking about the Israelites entering the Land, Rabbi Isaac starting a new job, Sam and Maggee getting married, or any other new venture in life, our concerns are very practical and human concerns. They involve real challenges.
But G-d’s concerns are different. He knows the plans he has for us, plans for good and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope. But he’s also the G-d who gave us choice… and with choice sometimes comes bad decisions.
In our parsha, G-d knows that the Israelites will be successful in entering and settling the Land. Those are not His concerns. What He seems to be concerned with is that the people will forget where they’ve come from, that they will lose their identities, that they will lose their sense of self and no longer be faithful.
And so, G-d presents a four-point program, a self-help plan given by our Father which when followed should keep us on the right path.
First, the people must bring an offering of their finest first fruits.
Then, they must recite a statement that would remind them of their history.
Third, they have to share with others, especially those who are less fortunate.
Then—and only then—they can enjoy the fruit of their work—which means that they can celebrate and enjoy life.
These requirements speak to each one of us, and they address the challenge of preserving what’s important in a “new land” (whatever that “new land” of opportunity might be) and how to spiritually survive when we are faced with the challenge of new ventures that shake up our comfortable lives.
Step one - bringing an offering of their finest first fruits - reminds us: There is something beyond ourselves that determines our well-being. We should never lose our humility - for good fortune comes not just from our own efforts. And amongst the intricate details, the multi-tasking and the tedium of life—amidst the good, the bad, the highs and the lows, we must remember G-d. Bring Him into the larger picture of our lives and thank him. Thank Him for His guidance and blessing on whatever “new land” you’re settling. Bring him your offerings, your prayers and your praises, and thank him as the Psalmist wrote, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
This attitude can change our mindset, can help us to cope with the stresses, concerns and unknowns. So, take a deep breath and lean into the Father. Give Him your tithes and offerings, your love and faithfulness, your time and your money, and your words and your actions – And thank Him.
Step two: To quote from the Lion King, “Remember where you came from. Remember who you are.” What were the struggles of our grandparents and ancestors? What was important to your parents, your grandparents, and your ancestors? What is important to you? What brought you to this place at this time with these people and this “new land”?
Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Shoah (the Holocaust) and a famous author and politician once said, “In Jewish history there are no coincidences.” This is the concept behind the Yiddish word, “bashert.” It translates to “destiny” and is often used to describe one’s divinely predestined soulmate. The one who completes you. The Eva to the Ken; the Cheri to the Mark; and the Maggee to the Sam.
It also goes beyond the soulmate connotation. It translates into the idea that Wiesel so beautifully captured in his saying about no coincidences. The seemingly haphazard, random, and arbitrary events that comprise the story of history and the story of our lives, from the global to the personal, from the broad to the intimate, all begin to form a coherent and purposeful narrative when we view them from a divine perspective. Rabbi Benjamin Blech once said, “With the wisdom of retrospective insight I have countless times learned to acknowledge that coincidence is but God’s way of choosing to remain anonymous.”
Events transpired in the lives of the people who came before you that led to this day in your life. They wove their own threads in your tapestry long before you were born. Remember them. Remember their struggles. Strive to understand their motivations and learn from their experiences. Yeshua in His ministry regularly referred to the living history and lessons in Tanakh (the Torah, the Writings and the Prophets). We should do no less. And ultimately, all of this history informs your understanding of who you are and of what’s important to you. So, by purposely recalling your ancestral history, just as the Israelites were commanded to do in point two of G-ds program after entering the Promised Land, we too can better equip ourselves to stay true to ourselves and to G-d.
Step three: G-d reminds the Israelites to share a tenth of their harvest “with the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow that they may eat their fill in your settlements.” We have obligations to those who aren’t as fortunate as we are. We are told this dozens of times throughout scriptures, in the Brit Chadashah and Tanakh. We are to measure the value of a society by how it treats the people on the fringes. And we are judged by how we treat others. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” The two greatest commandments summarize all of G-d’s expectations of us. Love G-d and in that love, take care of others. Do that and you will be blessed.
Step four: “And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the L-rd your G-d has bestowed upon you and your household.”
Once we’ve thanked G-d, we’ve recalled our history and acknowledge His guiding hand, and taken care of the less fortunate, then not only can we celebrate but we are commanded to, together. Enjoy the fruits of your labors and relish in the bounty of G-d’s blessing.
Ki Tavo presents a wonderful blueprint for us whenever we enter a new place or a new venture or a new life together.
Remember the divine author hiding in plain sight but often difficult to see through our foggy glasses. Seek His strength and His guidance in all things. And thank Him.
Remember where you came from and how you got here. Keep your traditions. Hold fast to your truths.
Remember to love your neighbor. Take care of those around you. Volunteer. Donate. And share your blessings with others. Live as Mashiach lived and that love will come back to you when you need it most.
Then and only then, enjoy the blessings that G-d has granted you. For He will bless you, “so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Rabbi Izi, I want to take a moment to ask HaShem to bless you in your new job. May He grant you wisdom and strength, encouragement and understanding as you settle into your “new land”. You showed faithfulness in waiting on HaShem for this position and we are all as thankful to Him as I’m sure you are yourself. May He use you for wonderful purposes in this job and throughout your life.
Maggee and Sam, may you truly be bashert to each other. May the L-rd bless you with peace and love, patience and strength. May you settle into your “new land” of matrimony and experience His blessings at every moment. May G-d give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness— an abundance of life with which to share with each other, with your friends and neighbors. May His love for you pour over into your words and deeds. And may you be daily examples of Yeshua’s love to all who know you.
Baruch atah Adonai, m’samayach ha-chatan v’ha-kalah.
Blessed art Thou, O L-rd, who makest the bridegroom and bride to rejoice.