Shabbat-Table Talks: Perashat Ki Tabo
Rabbi Ralph Tawil <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
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.
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.)
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. )
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.)
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.
about the history of your community.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Additional text: Deuteronomy 28:47-48
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….
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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