Parashat Ki Tavo – Gratitude for the New Year

By: Michael Carr

This parsha is like the Israelites getting married to G-d, with Moses creating and reading the pre-nuptial agreement aloud for everyone. The honeymoon will be their entry into the Promised Land. It’s the roadmap for the Israelites to achieve and live with joy, gratitude, and abundance by maintaining their fidelity to a covenant with G-d and Torah. Now miraculously, despite their many ups and downs, the Israelites have been enabled by Moses and directed by G-d to enter the Promised Land.

The Israelites are instructed that, upon entry into the land, they should express their gratitude to G-d for their bountiful harvests and freedom from slavery by tithing part of their crops for the Levite, and making another portion available to the stranger, the orphan and the widow.  Essentially, if the Israelites follow G-d’s mitzvot they will receive every imaginable blessing and if not—for example if, say, an idol is created—then a plethora of curses will follow them. 

Let’s look at the Biblical idea and act of gratitude, which is a recurring theme both in this week’s parsha and in those we’ve read during the last couple of weeks. The Biblical concept of gratitude requires that people acknowledge the goodness in their lives with the presumption that the source of that goodness exists, at least partially, outside of themselves. Being grateful helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals—say for example, other people, nature, or their Creator.

How many times in your life have you experienced a moment of gratitude for some miracle, moment, or experience? Some such moments might include the birth of a child, overcoming acute illness, living with a chronic illness, or achieving personal success in academics, in your career, or in your personal life. Hopefully, we have all been lucky enough to experience many such instances. Hopefully, we have realized how lucky we are in those moments and have felt a sense of gratitude for our good fortune.

Beyond that recognition, how often, in your gratitude, have you been aware of the fact that it was not only your own personal will and hard work that facilitated these moments but also the spiritual, emotional, and physical support from family, friends, and community? And how often did you express that gratitude—not just in words, but also through some sort of act that allowed you to share some portion of your success with the community that supported you?

How often do we remember, and express gratitude for what we view as purely personal achievements? How often do we remember to reflect and demonstrate the gratitude for the personal experiences that contributed toward our success and helped us get to where we are today? Sometimes even today we need a reminder to be grateful to G-d and grateful to others. Sometimes we forget to appreciate ourselves as well as those who helped us during our journeys. That is one reason our ancestors offered sacrifices, which were used to exemplify gratitude and appreciation to G-d back in the day. 

This week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, commands a farmer to tithe his first fruits to G-d and then to share his bounty with the community in order to express his gratitude. But our own moments of gratitude may not be for experiences that produce such tangible results, though the outcomes may have provided more for our lives and those of others. What would be the equivalent today, for those of us who are not farmers? How can we give back the product of our work to our Creator and to the people of our community?

Outside of our high holidays and festivals, our daily prayers during Shacharit, Mincha, Maariv, Ne’ila, and Musaf offer the opportunity to get closer to G-d, ask for blessings, forgiveness, share our gratitude, appreciation, and thankfulness. For some of the spiritual among us, in addition to asking for redemption, we may also consider asking for guidance, hope, clarity, compassion, and for a good day or week ahead. We may also consider making charitable contributions as a way of giving back to the community. As Rosh HaShana approaches, we may all might consider how, through our actions, we can “be inscribed” for a better year than the one we’ve just had—even if this past year has been good.

Giving thanks along with demonstrating gratitude and appreciation can make us healthier, happier and can improve our relationships. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. The act of gratitude grows with practice.

So, today, let me be the first to say how thankful and grateful I am to be able to prepare and have my divrei Torah shared (or share them when I am able…) with our Kehillah.  We are blessed to be a part of a community of caring and thoughtful individuals that make prayer on Shabbos and holidays a meaningful spiritual experience. If I have done anything to offend anyone this past year (other than my inability to be present or say speaking too much…) please forgive me. Shana Tova and may you all be inscribed for a year ahead with good health.  Thank y’all and good Shabbos!