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Parashat Ki Tavo: To Whom Do We Owe Our Successes?

"And when you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, you shall take some of the firstfruits of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put them in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, 'I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.'"

These are the verses that open this week's Parashah. They may seem like just instructions on what to do when you arrive in the Promised Land: when we arrive and enter, we must offer the firstfruits of the land to God and recite: "My father was a wandering Aramean..." – a verse that, when incorporated into our Passover Haggadah, recounts the painful experiences, some hopeful, that the journey we embarked on to get here brought us.

It's really much more than an instruction manual. And it's more than just historical recognition, although both actions are essential in all aspects of our lives. Having a clear understanding of what we need to do, the "to-do list" of our lives, helps us orient ourselves toward our goals or the different goals we may choose as our own.

Historical recognition, I believe, has to do with giving credit where it's due, whether it's to historical circumstances, the people who made those circumstances happen, or even to the Almighty, for the place they rightfully occupy with due gratitude.

When we achieve our goals, we often find it difficult to acknowledge those to whom we owe our successes. This happens with those we vote into political offices, directors of companies, entrepreneurs, or in any aspect of our lives.

Even for those who believe they've achieved their successes through their great talent, THAT talent doesn't belong to them; it was granted to them, and they should not only express gratitude for having it with the humility it requires but also share what they've achieved with those who may not have been blessed with the same gift. Having talent is not an achievement in itself; it's merely a gift.

Let's review the "to-do list" of the people of Israel. But let's adapt it a bit for ourselves:

  • When you reach the place of promise, stop and remember where you come from.

  • When you achieve what you've been waiting for and working towards, take a pause from the whirlwind of planned actions, give thanks, and honor the sacred nature of your own history, your memories.

  • When you arrive at the time you've been walking, running, longing, or trudging towards, cultivate gratitude and then remind yourself of how you got there. When you finally "get there," wherever "there" may be for you.

  • When you arrive at a significant milestone, following challenging times.... when you arrive, in just two weeks, at this Rosh Hashanah, after a long and complicated year... when you realize that what you long for is already yours: remember the most challenging part of your personal history, the narrow place, when your heart felt constricted, and your spirit thirsted for water that you weren't sure where to find.

Perhaps it's because our stories make us who we are, and the only way to fully reach the place of promise is to bring everything we've been, even the hardest parts or the things about ourselves we struggle with, those that hurt or weep, and in the moment of reflection, lean towards gratitude by acknowledging exactly what we are.

Today is the full moon of Elul, the last month of the year, where in one way or another, we look back at the path traveled, the lessons learned, the experiences we'd like to repeat, and those we want to leave behind.

May we find the best path to navigate Elul towards the new year.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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