Shabbat-Table Talks: Perashat Ki Tabo

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <tawil@bezeqint.net>

Value: Being happy by realizing where you came from and by focusing on what you have.  Appreciating the things we have rather than complaining about what we lack is a crucial first step towards happiness. Modeling careful thinking about our prosperity and recognizing that it comes from Hashem is one way to help our children develop this attitude. Recounting your personal history in a way that emphasizes your present good situation is one way to generate happiness.

Context: Our perasha begins with the commandment to bring the first (or prime) fruits of the land to the Kohen as an offering to Hashem. When the landowner would bring this offering, he declares that he has entered the land that Hashem had promised to his fathers. When the kohen places the basket of fruit in front of the altar the farmer reviews Israel’s history.

Text:  Deuteronomy 26:5-11

“An Aramean astray was my ancestor; he went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to Hashem, the God of our fathers, and Hashem heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. Hashem freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, Hashem, have given me.”

You shall leave it before Hashem your God and bow low before Hashem your God. And you shall rejoice, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, for all the bounty that Hashem your God has bestowed upon you and your household.

Analysis: We are familiar with the beginning of this text from the Pesah Haggadah. It tersely recounts our history in a few sentences. These verses focus on our oppressive bondage in Egypt and Hashem’s might in taking us out of Egypt. The historical account is made personal by mentioning our entering the land of Israel and the farmer’s action in bringing his first fruits.

The section begins “Arami oved avi….” The most familiar explanation of these words is the one known from the Haggadah (i.e., that Laban the Aramaen tried to destroy our father Ya’aqob). Yet, the more straightforward explanation is that our ancestor was a wandering Aramean, as is translated above.

The section ends with the provision that “you shall enjoy… all the bounty that Hashem… has given you". Recounting history in this way increases the likelihood of enjoyment of one’s present situation.

Discussion: Let’s look at the history. Is it a “complete” history or does it leave out some important events? (It leaves out the wandering in the wilderness, the receiving of the Torah, the golden calf. These are not important for the goal of this retelling of history.)

Why were only the aspects of “our wandering ancestor,” our oppression in Egypt, Hashem’s miraculous deliverance and the entering into the land mentioned? (The point is that the man should contrast his present situation of owning land and bringing his first fruits to a situation of wandering and of oppressive bondage. This would lead the farmer to appreciate his present situation. )

Why does the person bringing the first fruits have to recite the history that everyone knows? (Even though the history is well known, as the man is bringing his first fruits he must reflect upon it. This reflection creates an appreciation for his present situation—a situation that he might otherwise take for granted.)

Talk about your personal history and the history of your family in a way that highlights your present good condition. Speak about this with your children.

Talk about the history of your community.

Talk about the history of the Jewish people in the last century. The Jewish state being founded after nearly 2 millennia of wandering and after a devastating war by the Nazis to destroy us. Surviving the onslaught of the Arab nations. Recapturing our holy sites. These things might be taken for granted by those of us who were born after the founding of Israel or after the reunification of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg of Aish Hatorah in Jerusalem teaches: “happiness is not a happening but an obligation.” Many people fall into the trap of thinking, “I would be happy if only this or that happened to me.” Instead, Rav Noah teaches that the Torah view is that we are obligated to be happy.

But how can happiness, an emotional state, be an obligation? It is because by thinking, a willful act, we can create the feeling of happiness in ourselves. By focusing on the many things that we have, we can cause ourselves to feel happy. The very ability to sit around the Shabbat table with family, to see, talk and understand one another are things for which we are grateful.

Rav Noah suggests listing the things that we are happy to have and then prioritizing them. This exercise gets us to think about what is most important to us. Try it with your Shabbat table.

TV personality, Hugh Downs, expressed this idea succinctly:

A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.

Additional text: Deuteronomy 28:47-48

Our perasha also has a lengthy section of “blessings and curses.” Contained in the “curses” section is the following text relating to the obligation of serving Hashem in happiness for what he has given us.

Because you did not serve Hashem your God in joy and in good-feeling of heart out of the abundance of everything. So you will have to serve your enemies, whom Hashem will send-forth against you, in famine and in thirst, in nakedness and in lack of everything….

We are happy about the abundance that Hashem has given us and use it in our service of Hashem. The verse that describes the “measure for measure” consequence of not doing so, hints at the basic things for which we should be happy (i.e., food, water, clothing.) _________________________________________________________________

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Shabbat Table Talks is a publication of the Sephardic Orthodox Union.

©2001 Sephardic Institute

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