Ki Tavo -- Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

How do you express your gratitude? With words? With a thank-you card?

John F. Kennedy once suggested that "as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

A robust "attitude of gratitude" requires an act that acknowledges a benefactor’s benevolence and communicates one's grateful feelings. This is part of what Moses is teaching the Children of Israel through his own song in Deuteronomy; he instructs his people on how to cultivate the proper attitude for entering the Holy Land – after all, it is being given as an eternal gift. In settling and cultivating the land, the ritual of offering first ripened fruits or bikkurim at the Jerusalem Temple is a key moment in the agrarian lifecycle – here is a chance to proclaim one’s gratitude in community. Gratitude is often learned through our relation to others; thus tithing to the Levites and the needy are opportunities to cultivate gratitude. Sometimes we must see need in our midst to really appreciate the abundant blessings of our lives.

There is follow up here to the episode of blessings and curses that began its articulation in last week’s reading. Moses comments on the development of the Israelites since their birth as a nation; although their sense of peoplehood and commitment has evolved, they have not yet attained the maturity exemplified by "a mind to understand, or eyes to see or ears to hear." (29:3) In other words, aging does not always lead to emotional maturation, and this desert generation is still engaged in an ongoing process of "growing up" amidst innumerable challenges on the journey thus far.

To live by gratitude is our greatest challenge and dearest hope.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract depiction of Parashat Ki Tavo's dark and despotic venom. The parsha includes threats aplenty and bleak visions of the future that will befall the Israelites should they not "fulfill all [God’s] commandments and statutes." (Deuteronomy 28:15) Here, the venom dances across the picture like ink in water. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Ki Tavo -- Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

facebook_coverdesign_kitavoHow do you express your gratitude? With words? With a thank-you card?

A robust "attitude of gratitude" requires an act that acknowledges a benefactor’s benevolence and communicates one's grateful feelings. This is part of what Moses is teaching the Children of Israel through his own song in Deuteronomy; he instructs his people on how to cultivate the proper attitude for entering the Holy Land – after all, it is being given as an eternal gift. In settling and cultivating the land, the ritual of offering first ripened fruits or bikkurim at the Jerusalem Temple is a key moment in the agrarian lifecycle – here is a chance to proclaim one’s gratitude in community. Gratitude is often learned through our relation to others; thus tithing to the Levites and the needy are opportunities to cultivate gratitude. Sometimes we must see need in our midst to really appreciate the abundant blessings of our lives.

There is follow up here to the episode of blessings and curses that began its articulation in last week’s reading. Moses comments on the development of the Israelites since their birth as a nation; although their sense of peoplehood and commitment has evolved, they have not yet attained the maturity exemplified by "a mind to understand, or eyes to see or ears to hear." (29:3) In other words, aging does not always lead to emotional maturation, and this desert generation is still engaged in an ongoing process of "growing up" amidst innumerable challenges on the journey thus far.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork features an opened pomegranate, one of the seven species brought to the Temple for the bikkurim offering."And it will be, when you come into the land which the Lord, your God, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you." (Deuteronomy 26:1–2) Because the pomegranate is also associated with Rosh Hashanah, it seemed only appropriate to feature it now. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Welcoming Shabbat Nachamu

Sadly, the time has come for us to bid our all-star Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Claire Ambruster, a fond adieu.

For eight weeks this summer, Claire was a welcome addition to the CBS team. Without exception, every member of the CBS staff was very impressed with her and pleased with the work she did. As Rabbi Glazer wrote, "Claire was a pleasure to work with – responsive, responsible, and Jewishly knowledgeable and curious. Her ability to juggle multiple tasks and manage her time is noteworthy as are her people skills. This bodes well for future service in the Jewish community and beyond!"

We wish Claire the very best, and hope to see more of her since she'll just be across the Bay at Mills College. Fortunately for us, she is sharing one final blog contribution, this one about Shabbat Nachamu (August 20).

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Facebook_ModehAni_ClaireThis summer, I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to work at Congregation Beth Sholom through the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn internship. I worked in different departments here at CBS, which allowed me to gain perspective into different types of work — from accounting to communications. I really enjoyed getting to know my coworkers and the CBS community. Thank you to everyone who helped to make my time here full of growth!

Did you know that this coming Shabbat is a special one?

Shabbat Nachamu begins this Friday evening, the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. Just yesterday, Tisha B’Av brought a period of intense mourning for many losses, including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. However, on Shabbat Nachamu we make a complete shift, focusing instead on hope, healing, and light. Although we fasted and had no celebrations on Tisha B’Av, we have celebrations and weddings after Shabbat Nachamu.

Shabbat Nachamu also begins the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah — marking the start of a journey towards teshuvah and repentance. Despite our feelings of brokenness on Tisha B’Av, these seven weeks symbolize completeness, reminiscent of the seven days of the week or the seven days of shiva. For these next seven weeks, we read a weeky haftarah that provides comfort. On Shabbat Nachamu, we begin the haftarah with the line "Nachamu nachamu ami yomer eloheim," which means "You all comfort, comfort My people, says G-d" (Isaiah 40:1). In other words, "Come together and comfort each other and you will heal."

How does our tradition expect us to suddenly turn from complete mourning, loss, and destruction to comfort, healing, and hope — what really has changed? How many of us actually have the ability to just change our focus when we feel despair? And where does pain go?

In Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, he relates a Hindu parable about a student who frequently complained. To teach her student a lesson, the master told her to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. It tasted bitter. Then, the master told her student to drop the salt into the lake and taste it again. Now, the salt was diluted and the water tasted fresh. At this, the master told her apprentice, "The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things... Stop being a glass. Become a lake" (Nepo 18). On Shabbat Nachamu, we are called to become a lake. Although pain may always exist, we expand our perspective to include infinite sorrows and joys.

No matter the roadblocks, we can possess extensive gratitude — and those "roadblocks" can become "stepping stones" to learning something new. The Hebrew expression for gratitude is "hikarat hatov," literally, "recognizing the good." Each of us has many things to be thankful for — no matter what. In Pirkei Avot, it states, "Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own lot" (Pirkei Avot 4:1). In this way, our choices are what determine our outlook — and that is the wisdom of Shabbat Nachamu.

Artwork credit & note: Claire Ambruster, Modeh Ani, Watercolor on paper, 2015; Claire wanted this piece to accompany her article because the title and first words of our morning prayer, "Modeh ani," mean "I give thanks." That sentiment (and the practice of reciting the Modeh Ani with intention) can help us "become a lake."