I had planned to offer a new musing this week from my new home, but life interfered and after a week preparing for the start of a new school year at my new school, G”d decided to test me with with car troubles. Well, let’s be honest. It might not have been G”d. My car is is `97 and on the moving trip from IL to CT turned over the 200,000 mile mark. In any case, I’m just getting home now and thus offer this retread from 5761 (2001.)
Random Musings Before Shabbat-Re’eh 5761
Our Own Gifts
At the end of Re’eh, we read: “They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed, 17 but each with his own gift, according to the blessing that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you.” (JPS)
The context of these words is the commandment that three times a year, on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, all the (males) shall appear before G”d at the designated place (i.e. the holy Temple in Jerusalem.) It is not simply enough that they appear-they must also bring a gift. Yet, even in that agrarian society, and even though the Torah in other places is rather specific about gifts and sacrifices to be presented, in this place it says “each with his own gift, according to the blessing that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you.”
That’s pretty trusting-allowing us each to individually assess how G”d has blessed us, and present a gift commensurate with that amount. By what scale are we to judge? If this year’s crop was 50% better than last year’s crop, do we up our “gift” by 50%? But what if this year that crop did worse, but another crop did better? Do we adjust our gift accordingly? In a year of blight when no crops were successful, what gift do we bring? Is our mere presence, having survived the blight, enough to thank G”d for that very survival? Does the silversmith bring silver, the baker bread, the hunter some of his prey? Does an apparently infertile couple that miraculously has a child bring the child as a gift? (Let’s not get in to the question of the akedah just now, OK?) Does G”d want money? Praise? Sacrifices? Is that what this is all about? Is this how we are to measure the gifts bestowed upon us?
Even today, without the holy Temple, how do we offer these gifts, and which gifts do we offer? Shall a singer offer song, a poet a poem, a good cook a delicious dish? Would it be appropriate for someone not blessed with a good voice to offer a gift of song, or someone not a good cook to offer a gift of food? The obvious answer would be yes, for ultimately only we ourselves know what things in our lives appear to be blessings bestowed upon us. And the concepts of good voice and good food are somewhat subjective.
Many of us offer our gifts to G”d through our gifts and services to our community. If G”d has blessed you with a beautiful voice, then why not make a gift of song to G”d? All over the world people do that every day-cantors, soloists, choir members, songleaders. If G”d has blessed you with the skills of a teacher, then teaching in religious school can be your gift. Are you a computer nerd? Offer your gift to G”d through service to your congregation’s web presence.
But directly returning a gift of the blessing G”d has bestowed is not the only way. The text doesn’t say “give back as a gift to G”d some of exactly that which G”d has blessed you with.” No, it says “according the blessing that G”d has bestowed upon you.” What if the blessing G”d gave you was sparing your life in a dangerous situation? Would you repay with your life? And how could you spare G”d’s life? (well, actually, there is some possibility here, since the Reform HHD Machzor for Yom Kippur quotes a former chief rabbi of England having added an extension to “if you are my witnesses, then I am G”d,” with the words “and if you are not my witnesses then I am not G”d” So, in a way, by being faithful to the covenant, you might be insuring G”d’s survival. Hmmm.) And we can complicate this situation. What if the blessing is that your life was spared, but in the process hundreds of others died, or perhaps even close relatives were killed? If our gift is to be “according to the blessing bestowed…”
What about the someone who, in subjective opinion, is not blessed with a good voice, but feels blessed to be able to sing? Then surely their gift of song would be welcomed by G”d.
I think there are many ways we can offer gifts to G”d in return for the blessings bestowed upon us. And they need not be quid pro quo. Every time we observe a mitzvah, that is a gift to G”d. Every time we offer G”d praise and thanks, those are gifts.
But here’s the catch. As a species, we seem predisposed to not really see many of the blessings, the good things, in our lives. As a result, we’re probably rather stingy with the gifts we give to G”d in return. So my challenge to you this Shabbat is to really consider the words “each with his own gift, according to the blessing that the Lord your G”d has bestowed upon you.” Dwell on the blessings in your life. I’ll bet you’ll discover many you hadn’t given much though to. And the second part of the challenge-to find an appropriate way to offer a gift to G”d according to those blessings. A remember to not appear before G”d “empty-handed,”, i.e., without those gifts, however tangible or intangible they may be.
©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this Parasha:
Re’eh 5773 – Here’s a Tip
Re’eh 5772 – Think Marx, Act Rashi? Think Rashi, Act Marx?
Re’eh 5771 – Revisiting B’lo L’sav’a
Re’eh 5770 Meating Urges
Re’eh 5766-Lo Toseif V’lo Tigra
Re’eh 5765–Revised 5759-Open Your Hand
Re’eh 5760/5763–B’lo l’sav’a
Re’eh 5759–Open Your Hand
Re’eh 5757/5758–How To Tell Prophet From Profit