Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Shopping Trip, Israel and Parshat Ki Tavo

Today Rena and I went shopping. Actually, we went to the bank to get a loan for our car, and truth be told, it was a pretty good experience. The bank gave us a great rate (plus a discount on the loan), and the service was terrific. We waited almost no time, and were dealt with promptly and efficiently. (I know what you're thinking. Yes, this is Israel. Go to Bank Leumi in Kiryat Malachi, and speak to Dani. He's the manager.) While we were signing over and over again, I asked the woman helping us who she got auto insurance with. Not only did she tell me the name and give me the number, she picked up the phone and called them for us. That's Israel. It's like a big family.
In any event, we had some extra time, so we went to get a cup of coffee. Now in the States, you can also get a cup of coffee, but because it was a kosher coffee shop, we were able to drink our coffee not in the cheap paper cups, but in the glass mugs. It was just a pleasant experience that I really was never able to have in the U.S., and I appreciated being able to have it in Israel.
Then we went to the grocery store, where it's impossible to forget that Rosh Hashanah is coming. You walk into the store and there's a big sign that says, "Shanah Tovah!" The honey display is quite large as well. I even got into a small discussion with a middle-aged man about the sugar-free items in the health aisle of the store.
Finally, on the way out Rena bought a pizza at the store next to the grocery store, and she ended up having a nice discussion with the "secular" guy making pizzas about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rena commented on the fact that she never looks forward to Yom Kippur, and that it's a hard day. He told her that he always likes the day, because he feels spiritually cleansed and rejuvinated afterwards.
While each of these little vignettes aren't that special, put together I came away from a simple shopping trip with a great sense of positive warmth. While in America all our efforts go into living a Jewish life - who we congregate with; what we eat; where we go, in Israel, that life surrounds us in so many ways big and small.

All of this caused me to pause at a specific phrase that grabbed my attention from this week's parhsha. Ki Tavo begins with the מקרא ביכורים, the special declaration that each person must make when he brings his first fruits to the Kohen in the Beit Hamidash. Yet, even before he presents the bikkurim to the Kohen, the Torah tells us that,

וּבָאתָ, אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן, אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה, בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם; וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו, הִגַּדְתִּי הַיּוֹם לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כִּי-בָאתִי אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ לָתֶת לָנוּ.
And you shall come to the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him: 'I profess this day unto the LORD your God, that I have come to the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.'
The verse caught my eye because as I was reading it, I felt that I was reading about myself, and my family. כי באתי אל הארץ אשר נשבע ה' לאבותנו לתת לנו - I have come to the Land which God swore to give to our fathers. I truly have. It's exciting and chilling to personalize the words of Torah in such a meaningful way.
But the verse bothered me as well.
Rambam writes that this text is actually part of the ceremony of bringing the bikkurim. The farmer must put the basket of fruit on his shoulder and make this declaration to the Kohen. But this statement made me wonder: What does the farmer mean when he says, "that I have come to the Land which God swore to our fathers to give us"? Is that really true. Truth be told, he was probably born in Israel. He's lived there his whole life. He's never been anywhere else. Why then does he tell God and the Kohen that he has come to the land, when that in fact is untrue?
Kli Yakkar suggests that we cannot really call the Land our own until we have given of it to another. Only when we share the bounty of the land with others can we take ownership over the land that God has given us.
Which, I guess is really the point. The beauty of Israel is really the community; the fact that since everyone here is Jewish, we can, for the most part, eat together. We share holidays together. We wish each other a shanah tovah. We share our health issues with strangers, because we're not supposed to be strangers. And maybe that's when the Land truly becomes ours.

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