Well, we’re back in Genesis. “What?” you’re probably thinking, “Genesis is at the beginning of the whole Torah, and we are at the end of the Torah, in Deuteronomy!” Back in Genesis 4, Cain had a run-in with God over fruits in a basket. He somehow got it in his head to make an offering to God, though who knows how. We only know it didn’t work. Cain’s brother Abel figured that God didn’t want just any old slice of the product of their labors; God wanted the best. So Abel brought the finest of his flock as an offering and God liked that much better. First of the crop/flock = best of the crop/flock. Cain got upset, and we all know how that one ended up. (For those who need a hint, Cain and Abel had words, Abel ended up dead, and Cain was condemned to wander the world, the first convicted murderer.)
Why am I reminded of Cain and Abel this week, for parashat Ki Tavo? Here we are in Devarim, Deuteronomy, still standing at the portal to the new Land, and still getting instructions from Moses on what to do when we get there. First up? “And it shall be, when you come into the Land which God gave you for an inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell therein, you shall take the first of all the fruit of the ground….put it in a basket and go to the place with God will choose …” (Deut. 26:12)
Move in. Get settled, really settled, long enough to plant a crop and harvest it. That will take some time, a long time. So what are you thinking about during that whole time? If you’re like most people, you’re probably focused on the task at hand. Getting settled takes a lot of hard work. But when that first crop finally comes in, just in case your tendency is to celebrate all the hard work you’ve done and be very, very proud of yourself……stop. Remember what Moses said to you before you moved into the Land: you need to go God’s place and say thank you. Thanks for bringing you to this good place, getting a good crop, and putting food on the table. Acknowledge the path you’ve travelled, and who has been with you on that path. For the Torah, it’s God, of course, but God worked within the context of the community.
I’m no farmer. If you know anything about me, I don’t even like to garden. But there is something to be learned here, even when it’s couched in that unfathomable agricultural language.
Hyperbolic barrage of the recent political sound-bytes aside, I think that the Torah is telling us that none of us gets to where we are by our own hands alone. There are other hands helping us along the way. Someone watched the kids while you needed some quiet to get that proposal out or those art pieces ready for sale. Someone arranged for you to meet a friend of a friend when you needed some advice or a job, or even funding. And yes, someone built those roads and bridges to get you and your ideas/products/stuff/crop from point A to point B.
When we first move into a place, or start a new job, our first impulse is to get settled. Arrange our stuff, and set about living there, or dig in to the tasks at hand. It takes a single-mindedness, a dedication to purpose. And it takes time. That’s as it should be, because dedication is what will bring about the good crop of ideas. And when they finally come to fruition, no matter how long it’s taken, it is incumbent upon you to say “Thank you” with the best you have to offer. It’s a matter of honor and respect, not just of the result, but of the process that got you there, whether you’re at the pinnacle of success or just crossed a little hill of progress.
Lest we be condemned to wander the world alone like Cain, don’t forget that. Say thank you, because none of us reaps our harvests all by ourselves.