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Parashat Ki Tavo

08/30/2018 04:41:12 PM


Rabbi Robinson

Parashat Ki Tavo


If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans. It’s a variation on the Yiddish expression that I heard on the radio earlier this week in an interview, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Because we as people are planners; what are we doing today, next week, next year. Where are we travelling to, who are we having dinner with, what movie are we going to see, when are we going to go to the game with our buddy or our kid, who are we going to be when we grow up? and so on and so forth. That’s what we do: we plan. And yet, we know, deep inside, in some secret part of ourselves, that our plans are all written in pencil, they’re all theoretical. We think we know what the future holds—for our careers, our relationships, our health—and then life happens, and our plans go out the window. Sometimes in profoundly negative ways, and that might be what comes to mind: a layoff, an unexpected diagnosis, but sometimes it can be profoundly positive as well. How many times have I talked to people who met their spouses when preparing to marry someone else, or right after a big breakup, or stumbled into a job they thought would be temporary and instead led to long, meaningful careers, or weren’t planning on having kids—or having another kid—and, well, you see where I’m going. Life, as the saying goes, comes at you fast.

And yet, we plan. We still plan. We can’t help ourselves! It’s who we are. And we see it so clearly in our Torah portion this week, the verses I just recited. Vehaya ki tavo el ha’aretz asher Adonai elohecha notein lecha, when you enter the land Adonai your God is giving you, you shall take the first fruits and offer them up. When. Don’t you love it? Not, “Should you be able to”, or “If”, but “When”. What confidence! What a plan! This is going to happen, Israel! So be ready! Put it on the calendar! Here, I can share the event with you, do you prefer google calendar or ical or outlook? How could they know? How could they be so confident that, after entering this land flowing with milk and honey, and after tilling and planting and tending, they would have first fruits AT ALL, never mind enough to bring to Jerusalem? Yet there it is. A plan.

Or maybe not. Or not exactly what we mean by a plan. I think there’s another way to read this. What if this isn’t a plan for prosperity—I will have first fruits, I will have success—but instead a plan for appreciation and gratitude: “I will be grateful for what I have and I get”; “I will give thanks for what there is in my life, even if it doesn’t turn out the way I thought it would”? That’s not how we normally think of plans, is it? We don’t plan to be grateful. And yet, how might that change our perspective on life? Would it help us cope with the unexpected harm, or be better prepared for the unexpected joy? Would it allow us to be more present, more in the moment? It might not make the surprises any less surprising, but it may change how we experience them? How we relate to them. How they affect us. Is that something we would find appealing?

I think it’s worth asking the question, especially now, as we prepare for a new year. Rosh Hashanah comes and its liturgy reminds us that our plans are, perhaps, less assurances and more hopes, or aspirations. And we don’t like to be reminded of that. But the prayers of the new year also remind us of the opportunities around us for gratitude, for the expected and unexpected alike. And as Rabbi Alan Lew reminds us, while we can’t change what happens to us, we can experience what happens not as evil, but simply what happens. And, perhaps, find a way to offer our thanks for what we have—whether despite or because of what happens—all the same. Amen.

Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784