Our Torah portion this week begins with a marvelous Mitzvah (sacred connection); the Mitzvah of bringing thank you gifts to G for guiding us into Israel. We give G a fruit basket as a thank you for all of the miracles G has performed on our behalf.
On the one hand we have a symbolic gesture, a ‘sacrifice’ to G. Along with that gesture comes a lovely statement that we say aloud; so lovely that we read it every year on Pesah every in remembrance. It is a historical mantra of joy and gratitude. It commences with our commencement as wandering strangers. It ascends with our entrance into Egypt and descends into degradation and forced labor. Then this beautiful tale continues with our cries of distress to the Holy, Wholly One of Being who answers with wonders and signs and our long trek to freedom. The tale ends with our arrival in our homeland, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” And therefore, it continues, we bring our first fruits as a thank you gift to the Source of our freedom. And yet, one might ask, is the One G really desirous of our fruits and vegetables and livestock? The answer comes with the next verse (Deuteronomy 26:11). In order for us to show our gratitude to G, we must take what we have been given and share it with others, those in need.
That is an incredible statement. Our offering, our tax is for the feeding of the Levites, but also for the poor, the disadvantaged, the stranger in our midst. What a concept. We are commanded to pay a tax of gratitude and it is to be used to help those in need.
When we listen to some of the rhetoric today, this Mitzvah stands out among the xenophobic, hate-filled remarks that we hear from political leaders and political “wanna-bes”. While many wish to erase that beautiful poem at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, written by the Jewish Poet Emma Lazarus, we were commanded to live up to it; to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the stranger.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”