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Parasha Insights from Rabbi Mansour

Parashat Ki-Tavo - Thanking God, Thanking People

Parashat Ki-Tavo begins with the Misva of Bikkurim, the requirement to bring one’s first fruits to the Kohen in the Bet Hamikdash.  A farmer who grew any of the seven special species would tie a thread around the first fruits that ripened, and then bring them to the Mikdash.  Before giving the basket of fruit to the Kohen, the farmer would recite a special declaration, called Mikra Bikkurim, in which he recalled how Laban tried to destroy Yaakob, and how Beneh Yisrael were subjugated in Egypt and were ultimately rescued by God.  It is only in the final verse of Mikra Bikkurim that the farmer made mention of the fruits which God had given him.

The question arises, why does the Torah require a farmer to recall the history of Am Yisrael, dating back to the time of Yaakov Abinu?  It is understandable that one should be required to bring a gift and express his gratitude for a successful yield.  But why does the Torah require him on this occasion to contemplate the ancient history of the Jewish people?

The answer, it would seem, is that the Torah here seeks to convey an important lesson regarding gratitude.  When something good happens to us, we must seize the opportunity to thank Hashem for all that He does for us – and not only for the immediate source of joy, or the success we have just achieved.  As the farmer proudly stands in the Temple with the first produce of his field, he must thank God not only for this year’s yield, but for everything God has done for him and for the Jewish people, already from the earliest times.

People are not naturally inclined to feel or express gratitude, because feeling grateful means feeling dependant.  We want to feel independent and self-sufficient, and thus we naturally seek to avoid feeling indebted.  For this reason, the Torah imposed upon the farmer the requirement to thank God for everything, to break this natural tendency and to emphasize the importance of gratitude.

But gratitude to God can only come after one feels gratitude toward other people.  I once observed a young married man reciting Birkat Hamazon with intense emotion.  When he finally finished his very lengthy and animated recitation, I asked him a simple question: “So, why don’t you say, ‘Thank you’?”

“What?” the man said.  “I just recited Birkat Hamazon; I thanked Hashem.”

“Yes, but what about thanking your wife, who prepared and served a nice meal?”

“Thank my wife?!” the man asked.  “I just thanked God.  Why do I need to thank my wife?”

At that moment, I realized that the man’s outward piety was insincere.  A person who cannot feel gratitude for something that was done for him right before his eyes cannot possibly feel genuinely grateful to God, whom he does not see.  We cannot reach the lofty level of feeling grateful for God for all He does for us until we have achieved the more basic level of recognizing and feeling grateful for the kindness we receive from the people around us.  If we fail to show gratitude to a devoted wife, to a hard-working husband, to a loving parent, to a diligent employee, or to helpful neighbors, then how can we possibly show gratitude to God?

The Misva of Bikkurim reminds us of the need to feel genuinely grateful to God for all He has done for us and for our nation since its inception.  But we must not forget our more basic responsibility to feel grateful to all those people in our lives who deserve our appreciation.  It’s easy to say “Thank you” to the supermarket clerk or the mailman, toward whom we don’t really feel any true gratitude.  But it’s more difficult to feel and express gratitude to those who really deserve it, such as our spouses and parents.  Let us remember our obligation of “Hakarat Hatob” (gratitude) toward the people in our lives who deserve our appreciation, and we will then be able to feel grateful to the Almighty for all He has done for us.

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Fri, September 20 2019 20 Elul 5779