Jewish law demanded that every farmer bring the first fruit produced by each of his trees to Jerusalem as an offering to God. It would be consumed by the priests as God’s representatives. (God himself is not a big fruit eater.)
The person bringing the offering read a beautiful text from this week’s portion. It traces the history of the Jewish People from our original forefathers, through becoming a nation, the slavery in Egypt, followed by redemption and the gift of a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’. Its theme is that of gratitude.
I rent a cherry tree for my family every year in Kent (rentacherrytree.co.uk). We go to the orchard in July and pick around 15kg of the most delicious cherries that have ever existed – from just one tree! There is really something special about seeing hundreds of trees whose boughs are bending from the weight of the fruit upon them. There is a feeling of the richness of God’s creation, the vast blessing and abundance of our wonderful planet earth.
It’s a flavour of the feeling that a farmer with an orchard would have had in Israel a few thousand years ago. The Torah says that the farmer should take that good feeling and direct it towards gratitude. Because, from Torah’s perspective, there is very little more important and more precious in the human experience than gratitude.
I, for one, am a very big fan. I love the way gratitude feels and I love being able to express it to other people – even if I am a fallible human being who is regularly remiss in doing so!
There are so many laws in the Torah associated with gratitude – the first fruits being an obvious one. Honouring parents is, of course, another.
In essence, gratitude means taking that which you have been given and giving back part of it – as in the first fruits. If someone got you out of prison and hence gave you your time back, gratitude would mean spending some of that time to help him if he asked. If someone helped you to make money, gratitude would mean buying something that he needed with some of the money that you made. If someone introduced you to your spouse, gratitude would mean giving up some of your time with that spouse to assist him at a time of need. Gratitude is all about giving back when you have been given to, not simply saying ‘thank you’.
Living in a feeling of gratitude is one of life’s great pleasures – perhaps even its greatest. So, my principle is to look for gratitude wherever I can find it. And once I’ve found it, try to live it. Start doing so and you will find the potential for it around every corner.
Parsha in a Nutshell
Although other issues are discussed as well, the bulk of this portion is devoted to a detailed account of the consequences of the Jewish people not fulfilling their destiny of being a ‘light to the nations’. People often look at it as God threatening to punish the Jewish people if they do not follow his commands. However, ‘cause and effect’ is a much better model. God says to us, so to speak: my children – make the world Godly and it will be a beautiful place to live. Fail to do so – and it will swallow you alive.