- Weekly D'var Torah
Last Tuesday, I had the privilege, along with some students and staff members, of attending the annual JUF luncheon. The hall was packed and there was much simcha as we heard a number of speeches about the important daily work that the Federation does in Chicago. There were also presentations from community members who had gone above and beyond what was asked of them and as a result, excelled in their respective fields. Mrs. Anna Hartman, whose son Josiah is an 8th grade student at Bernard Zell, was honored for her service to early childhood education.
At this annual gathering, I also felt what it must have been like for our people during the time of settling in the Land of Israel after Moses’ death and Joshua replacing him and leading the way. This week’s parsha of Ki Tavo begins with a very important commandment. When the Israelites first entered Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, they were required to bring their first produce to the Cohen (priest). There is a machloket (disagreement) between Rashi, a medieval Rabbi, and Sifrei, a classic midrashic work. Rashi says, only after the Israelites had conquered the Land—14 years after entering it—were they required to bring the first fruits. Sifrei disagrees and states that the obligation to fulfill this mitzvah takes place as soon as they enter the Land—even though it would take seven years for the first-fruits to be ready.
So what is the difference between Rashi and the Sifrei? The process of hakarat hatov (acknowledging the good one does) starts daily with the prayer Modeh ani when waking up. As the day goes on, we become more alert, and after have actively experienced God’s goodness our thanks are also more meaningful. Both arguments agree that the Bikkurim (first fruits) should be brought when the people have entered the land, but both may also be looking at who the mitzvah is aimed at and when it needs to brought. Does that mean there is less of an appreciation with either interpretation? Certainly not. The bringing of the Bikkurim was the culmination before the process would begin again, in the new agricultural year. We are both appreciative during the process and then at its culmination—at the end of harvest.
We have reached the end of the Jewish year of 5779 and are about to begin the new Jewish year of 5780 in less than two weeks. Throughout this past year, each of us has constantly been learning and adding to both our Jewish and general knowledge, as well as our daily life experiences. The end of the year provides us with the opportunity to realize how our daily lives have been enriched by God’s “presents” and “presence.” Hakarat hatov is on-going. At certain times, we gather together to acknowledge the good that is being done by individuals in our community. It is up to us to appreciate all the good and “gather up” all that we learn and experience in our classes, new playground, art room, dining room, hallways, new gym, both from our teachers and peers.
Thank you to both the Jewish Federation of Chicago and our own school community for all the time and effort that is put into making the work of both Jewish organizations so meaningful and important. In fact, hakarat hatov should be shown to all the Jewish organizations that reach out to the larger community thus making ours such a dynamic, caring and loving one. We are grateful to all of you throughout the year, not just when we come together and celebrate. Shabbat Shalom.