There is a profound sense of anticipation that culminates in Parashat Ki Tavo. As we follow the flow of the Torah from its inception, we come to a pivotal moment, a moment where God’s covenantal promise is nearly realized. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Promised Land is within reach. It’s a juncture of extraordinary significance, an almost-there threshold that beckons reflection.
Moses, the revered leader, imparts his deepest teachings to the Israelites, who have endured a long and arduous journey. Yet, just as they are on the brink of this momentous fulfillment, an interruption occurs – for us, the readers who have accompanied them the whole way. The High Holidays arrive, diverting the course of the weekly Torah portion. This interruption, though intricate and complex, sets the stage for a unique perspective on the narrative.
At the heart of Parashat Ki Tavo lies a familiar passage, one that resonates especially with those who have experienced a Passover Seder. It involves presenting the bikkurim, the first fruits, to the priest upon entering the Promised Land and reciting a profound formula. The formula commences with a declaration of ancestry, a reflection on the path that led to this moment. The words, “My father, my ancestor, was a wandering Aramean, (Deut. 26:5)” evoke the rich history of struggles and triumphs that have shaped our ancestors’ world.
Interpreting this passage opens up a narrative duality. The reference to a wandering ancestor can either signify Abraham’s journey or allude to the afflictions faced by Jacob – both are well-developed interpretive traditions in the Jewish cannon. This duality presents a choice: to frame one’s narrative from a place of pain (an Aramean ancestor – Laban – sought to destroy my ancestor Jacob) or to celebrate the journey that led to fulfillment (our ancestor – Abraham – was a wanderer before receiving God’s call). This choice extends beyond the historical context and touches the essence of storytelling itself. It prompts us to reflect on how we construct our personal narratives—whether we choose to define ourselves by our traumas or by the path that led us to triumph.
The subsequent paragraphs of the text recount the trials and tribulations of the people’s journey, from Egypt’s oppression to their liberation, a narrative familiar to those acquainted with the Passover Seder. The language, the cries to God, the depiction of liberation—all resound with an air of familiarity.
Parashat Ki Tavo teaches us the language of gratitude, a language that stands in stark contrast to the language of command. The gratitude expressed here is not transactional—offering firstfruits in exchange for blessings. Instead, it’s an authentic outpouring of appreciation for the journey, for the culmination of dreams. It’s the gratitude that emanates from the heart when one stands on the precipice of achievement and realizes that they’ve made it, despite the obstacles.
Imagine the emotion of arriving after 40 years in the desert, standing in the Promised Land, and offering the first fruits that represent your toil and growth. It’s akin to taping that first hard-earned dollar to the wall of a newly opened shop, a mezuzah on the wall, a symbol of gratitude for the journey ahead. This gesture acknowledges that the journey, as much as the destination, is worthy of celebration.
In the lead-up to the High Holidays, Parashat Ki Tavo offers a unique opportunity to mindfully re-approach our relationship with God. It serves as a reminder that our narratives are not solely about judgment and accountability but also about love and compassion. Amid the prayers and rituals, there is opportunity to both express thanks and to reflect on the stories that define us.
Let us embrace the power of gratitude. Let us remember that our stories are shaped not only by hardship but by the journey itself—the journey that brings us to the brink of the realization of yearned-for promises. And so, as we stand at the crossroads of our narratives, may we find inspiration in the act of offering our first fruits—our heartfelt gratitude—for all that has brought us to this point.