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Last Friday's Sermon: Being grateful with the first fruits

This week’s Torah portion is “Ki Tavo”, when you come in [to the land]. And when we come into the land, after we’ve settled, we will bring a tithe of our first fruits. This is our way of giving thanks. First of all, “tithe” is the Old English word for “tenth”. We are making an offering every year to give a tenth of our produce in whatever profession we have chosen to Hashem. They way we do that is by giving to the priests and Levites (ministers) whose profession it is to serve G-d. We also give a tenth to the needy: the poor, widows and orphans who struggle for subsistence, and the stranger who doesn’t have any ancestral year. In other words, we’re giving back. This procedure of offering is one of the ways we are reminded that our prosperity comes from G-d. Certainly we go through the motions of farming or husbandry, but it is indeed Hashem who gives us—as the morning blessing reminds us—what we need. Making those offerings is one of the many ways we remember all of Hashem’s commandments. Prosperity is a trap. When we are struggling, we are always praying, as we do whenever we are in need. “Please make my business successful”, “restore my health”, “make that man or woman notice me and fall in love”. When we are become successful, we start to lose interest. We stop praying as much, don’t need to, right? We forget about being righteous because we have business and fruits of our labors (country clubs, trips, nights out) to think about. This is why this is a commandment. When we don’t need, we forget and lose sight. The idea of the yearly offering reminds us that, yes, there is this covenant thing and have to perform mitzvot. There is also the idea of eating and giving thanks. So we eat bread and say a blessing before, and then another one after (Birkat HaMazone). What’s this all about really? Remembering to say “thank you” and be grateful for what we have. It’s easy to remember when we’re in need, but not so much when things are going our way. This portion also contains another round of the “Tohaha”, the admonition. Moshe Rabbeinu foresaw, and now gives a very stern warning, that as we get more successful, we will forget the thank G-d for our bounty. We may even descend into idolatry, worshipping not just foreign gods, but maybe money and power as well. There will be consequences, measure-for-measure. Just as we will be rewarded for doing good, we will be punished for being bad. The bad, however, is not an all-or-none scenario, it gets worse if we don’t correct. So the bad is not necessarily a punishment, but it is a warning, which is the main meaning of “Tohaha” that we need to change our course. If we don’t take care of our bodies, for example, we get sick. If we don’t change our behavior, we get more sick. As we get more successful in business, we start to live a little more lavishly and start contributing to worthy causes like helping those less fortunate or contributing more to the local synagogue. (Hint, hint). But then we get to the point where having prosperity feels real good and we want more. So we give a little less, because, hey, we worked hard and earned it and we want to enjoy it. So we’re giving a little, aren’t we? That’s enough, right? It’s all about character. When we don’t have a lot and get a little more, it’s noticeable. We feel so much gratitude are happy to give some. But when we have a lot, the little bits aren’t as noticeable. The Talmud has all sorts of stories about people who are well off, spend lavishly on themselves but give the bare minimum. We must always remember to be grateful and not lose sight of what’s really important, which is Hashem. Hashem can’t write a check, so he helps us become successful so that we can. In this way, we are doing G-d’s work and doing mitzvot

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