Aug 19, 2013

Ki Tavo 5773/2013: "Unintelligible Yet Meaningful"

Ki Tavo 5773/2013: "Unintelligible Yet Meaningful"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

celebrating the wedding of Etai and Anna
in memory of Sheldon Wolfe z"l

As Rashi says, commenting on the biblical verses depicting receiving the Torah at Sinai, "all beginnings are difficult (Ex. 19:5)." 

Any transition might prompt anxiety. Combination of transitions can be simply overwhelming. Just imagine what it must have been for the Israelites, just about to enter the land with the beginning of our Parsha. The last parasha, Ki Tetze, details the community they must create together, and now, after 40 years in the desert (not to mention 400 years of slavery) waiting for the fulfillment of God's Promise - they're almost there. What must have been on their minds? What might they have been imagining? 

This moment of our People's journey is an intense one, pregnant with possibility.

"Ki Tavo el Ha'Aretz, When you enter the land…" What to do when a dream is about to be fulfilled? Perhaps not the obvious response, the first commandment in the Torah following these words is to bring the bikurim, the first fruits. Gratitude before God is understandable but the first crop? The first experience of self-nourishment? We endure 40 years of desert before stepping foot in a land of milk and honey, and that first taste is denied to us? What lesson is to be learned from the juxtaposition of our first entry into the land and bikurim?

At least three facets of this question warrant reflection: 

1) To whom are we giving the gift? God? The priest actually receives the gift as God's indirect agent.
2) The formula said when bringing the bikurim to the priest? "Arami Oved Avi," recited at every Seder, yet the translations vary; either, "My father was a wandering Aramean" or "An Aramean tried to destroy my father" among other possibilities. 
3) Where can we give this gift today? The priests, as we know them, don't exist. There is no Jerusalem Temple, and even most Jews who live in Israel are not farmers - how can we give bikurim today?

We can no longer give an indirect gift using words even we don't understand. Should we experience this as loss at all?

A thought: With every new beginning, our hearts are overfilled with joy and thanks, so caught up in the realization of dreams that words fall short. Holy moments defy language. So the bikurim formula of "Arami Oved Avi" "works" because it is, perhaps, to express words that defy meaning than to limit the moment to words we understand.

Words can reduce meaning, and the power of the bikurim formula, in this light, is in its elusiveness.

Rashi was correct. Transitions are daunting. New, intense experiences, happy and sad, bring us to tears. We are grateful to be alive. We miss our loved one. And we simply don't have the words.

So we offer the best we can, exhaling and inhaling these elusive moments, knowing there will never be adequate expression. 

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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