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Multiply Blessings through Mutual Aid

09/04/2020 12:21:57 PM


            Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Ki Tavo. We read about the practice of tithing the first fruits of the field, followed by some great political theater in which Moses splits up the tribes and sends them to two different mountains, then calls out blessings to one mountain and that half of the Israelites all say, “Amen!” and he calls out curses to the other mountain to which the other half of the Israelites say, “Amen!” 

            The driving force of this parasha is the way we respond to the bounty of the Earth, which the Divine Creator has provided for us. If we are truly grateful, we are driven to generosity, the core principle behind the tithing the Torah describes. We are to give back to the community, to pay it forward to those less fortunate, to share with our families. In doing so we are celebrating our gratitude, and will continue to live in abundance with those whom we share the Earth with. If we are arrogant and selfish, forgetting the many processes through which we are provided our sustenance, thinking that it is all by our own hand and therefore only for us to enjoy, we create a world of separation. We cut ourselves off from the Earth, from the community, from the Divine, and fall into misery. Celebrating our blessings through gratitude creates more blessings, and hoarding our blessings through ungrateful miserliness creates curses.

            With the way the blessings and curses are laid out in this parasha, one might misunderstand the covenantal theology as one of Divine reward and punishment as a direct result of the level of our fearful submission to God. However, rabbinic tradition reminds us that “one who observes commandments out of fear of punishment or love of reward does not worship for the right reasons,” rather that one who observes these commandments out of their desire to exalt the greatness of the Divine plentitude is an example of true avodah, service. The Hebrew word at play in this discussion is yirah. The word can be translated as fear or awe, but 15th century rabbi Joseph Albo insists that awe is the correct understanding of yirat HaShem.

            Yirat HaShem may be what compels us to follow the commandments, but as we learn in the beginning of this parasha, it is not that the fear of God’s curses keep us in line, rather it is the awe and gratitude of the Earth’s splendor that multiply our blessings. As we approach the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe (it may not look/sound related but nora and yira share the same root in Hebrew etymology), in this year that feels particularly cursed, it may be helpful to reframe how we think about blessings and curses, gratitude and awe, fear and destruction. Exactly what the reframing is may look different from each of us depending on how the pandemic has affected you personally, but we all have something left to share with our community as an expression of our awe at human resilience – whether bounty from the earth, financial assistance, or a story and a smile over video calls.

            May you count your blessings this Shabbat, and may they lead you toward mutual aid, justice, and the multiplication of joy. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Fri, October 30 2020 12 Cheshvan 5781