By: Dan Leshem
Director of JCRC
This week’s Torah portion is called Ki Tavo discusses what the Hebrews will do once they arrive in the land, “posses it, and settle in it” (Deuteronomy 26:1). The instructions given to the Israelites are that they express their gratitude once they have entered the land by bringing for this achievement by bringing their first fruits to the Temple. The name of the portion itself means “When you arrive.” This language leads to a disagreement among the early Rabbis about when exactly this would be, since the Torah tells us that it took the Hebrew tribes 7 years to conquer the inhabitant groups and another 7 to divide up the land of their heritage. Have they “arrived” as soon as they enter the land? Only after they have conquered it? Once they’ve divided it? Even after 14 years, the land would likely be in difficult shape for farming and might take several more years to produce the “first fruits” G-d asks them to bring to the Temple.
All of which begs an age-old question, how will we know when we have arrived? Certainly, in the biblical example “arriving” is a process and not a singular moment. It is diachronic—happening over and through time—rather than synchronic. Wellbeing, safety, and trust in the world around us takes time, it accretes to us slowly and incrementally, so it can be hard to recognize when we have enough to turn to gratitude. We easily miss the signs telling us that now we are the leaders, we are the ones empowered enough to help those still struggling in ways we no longer are. We have learned lessons on our way that we can share with others to ease their path. Our harvests are bountiful enough that we can bring some to the Temple and some to the shelter, some for our brethren and neighbors, and some for the wider community.r
After all, the phrase “When you enter the land that your God יהוה is giving you” is not addressed to a singular individual so much as it is addressed to an entire people. The “you” is a collective you—it is us. And so “arriving” in the land is less about when I am settled and comfortable than it is about when we are all settled and safe. Would it make sense to set aside food for sacrifice when our neighbors are hungry or without shelter? Don’t we need everyone to arrive for our gratitude to have any meaning?
So perhaps I can propose a few maxims for arrival inspired by Rabbi Hillel’s summary of the ethical life in the Ethics of our Fathers — “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self [only], what am I? And if not now, when?”
I long to arrive
My neighbor’s arrival is essential to mine
Arriving is a process we have already begun with no end in sight
May we all find ourselves settled and arrived, basking in our promised portion—May it be soon, may it be now.
Please email Dan Leshem at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.