Each chapter of life carries its own unique set of challenges. At times it seems as if Hashem is turning up the pressure, even boxing us into corners. This compels us to reach deep into ourselves and locate hidden strengths. Life’s vicissitudes, as trying as they are, serve to build up our muscle and enable us to realize new plateaus.
Navigating the pitfalls of child-rearing seems simple next to the turbulence of adolescence, and those challenges in turn pale next to the sober task of helping one’s child find his/her bashert. In the process of that epic search for a suitable life partner for a son or daughter, we are exposed to the class divisions and petty politics that lie beneath the surface of society-and it is not always a pleasant experience. It takes extra dose of fortitude and bitachon to navigate those choppy seas.
Presenters on these topics at the weekend will include Rabbi Avraham Braun, Mrs. Chani Juravel, Mrs. Debbie Greenblatt, Rabbi Benzion Shafier, Rabbi Jonathan Rietti and yours truly. Although the hands-on tips and tools for how to “survive” this most difficult parsha are indeed important, the most valuable aspect of the seminar will undoubtedly be the sharing and bonding between participants. A receptive ear and a shoulder to lean on are sometimes all we need to make it over the hill.
We look forward to a rewarding and inspiring weekend that will also help condition our minds and prepare our spirits for the upcoming Days of Awe.
This week’s Torah portion opens with the mitzvah of bikurim. In Biblical times, each farmer was constantly scanning his field for the first produce of the year’s harvest to ripen. He would lovingly cut the first fruits and bring them with great joy and celebration to Jerusalem where he would declare his thanks to Hashem, and beseech Him to continue to shower His bountiful blessings upon us. Hashkifa mimon kadhsecha min hashomayim. Gaze down at us from Your Heavenly abode and continue to bless your people and your land.
Maimonides, when outlining this ritual, explains that integral to a Jew’s declaration was not only the act of thanking Hashem for His gift of a plentiful harvest but the Jew’s entreaty that He continue the flow of his blessings from Above. This concept is repeatedly reflected in our prayers. Whenever we thank Hashem for His past kindness towards us, we request, almost in the same breath, that He continue bestowing His blessings. The “modim” prayer in our Shemona Esrei is a classic example of this dualism. We pray, ‘We give thanks to You, Hashem our G-d – for the goodness, for Your kindness never ceases, and for Your mercy which is endless. We will forever yearn for Your continued goodness towards us.”
This all seems rather audacious. Shouldn’t one thank Hashem for His largesse, without exploiting His favor to ask for extra perks? If someone solicits us for a donation and we acquiesce, it would strike as pushy in the extreme if our benefactor immediately hit us up for additional sums.
The commentaries explain that the answer lies in a deeper appreciation of what it means to give thanks and express appreciation to Hashem. True appreciation is acknowledging not simply that He assisted us in our labor of tilling the soil, planting the seeds and reaping the harvest. Genuine appreciation means recognizing that the harvest is entirely a gift in the sense that every ounce of energy we expended, every drop of rain that fell, each seed that germinated in the soil, was all powered by Divine grace.
We recognize that all of creation is animated and given life each second by Hashem. With all of our rushing about on the stage of life, we are simply the conduits and the receptacle of His Divine blessing. We stand before Him in profound gratitude, recognizing that we are simply the cup into which the Divine flow has been poured.
In this vein, it makes sense that we implore Hashem for His future help at the same time that we express our awareness that we mortals have no inherent power to accomplish anything without Him. It is He who sustains us even as we imagine we are pulling the strings and making things happen in our life. Together with this acknowledgment of our ultimate helplessness, it is only natural that we ask to continue being a receptacle for His Divine blessings. Each of us at times views our own proverbial “cup of life” as half-full or half-empty. At times of joy and celebration, it is easy to recognize and appreciate His goodness and His love for us. At other times, when the Divine flow is constricted and our efforts to acquire things or achieve new milestones are frustrated, we become agitated and wonder why He is not helping us.
In the spirit of the sacred mitzvah of bikurim, when we give thanks to Hashem for His bountiful gifts, we should try to view every situation as a “cup” that Hashem has knowingly and lovingly filled for us-even if at times it smells or tastes somewhat bitter. No matter how strangely they are packaged, all of life’s happenings, at their source, are gifts and blessings. For if they are directed our way by a loving Benefactor who loves us more than we love ourselves, how can they be anything else?
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Naftali Reich
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.