The following Devar Torah was written by Year 11 student, Aarin Regan-Lacey and delivered at our High School Assembly.
Rabbi Daniel Siegel
This week’s parashah is Ki Tavo, from the Devarim, the book of Deuteronomy.
In this parashah, Moses instructs the people of Israel: “When you enter the land that God is giving you… and you settle it and cultivate it, bring bikkurim, first ripened fruits of your orchard, to the holy temple in order to declare gratitude for all that God has done for you”. The Israelites are also instructed to express their gratitude by leaving ten percent of their crops for the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow.
The Israelites are told that if they obey God’s mitsvot faithfully they will receive every blessing imaginable and if they do not fulfil this many curses will descend upon them.
There are many messages within this parashah; the message that I found most evident is this expression of gratitude.
Living in a First World country and going to a private school in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney gives us a lot to be grateful for. However, how many of us actually express this gratitude, whether thanking our parents for dinner or for giving us the amazing education we receive at Emanuel?
By saying the prayer modeh ani every morning, we can give thanks to God for “mercifully restoring our souls to us”. Or, every Shabbat, I sing a song called Chalomoteinu Vetikvateinu, Our Dreams and Our Hopes, which is a version of the song Tov Lehodot. However the prayer is not directed to God but to the world. It translates as “It is good to give thanks to the world, and to sing with happiness during the day – to tell in the morning of our dreams, and in the evenings of our hopes”.
Studies have found that by expressing gratitude our level of happiness rises and it is so easy to do. We are offered so much in our lives to be grateful for and by expressing gratitude for even just the little things like saying thank you to our bus driver or to our parents for making our lunch really raises our level of happiness.
Another message I took from this parashah was from the law of leaving ten percent of our crops for the less fortunate. We have so many opportunities to help in our community by volunteering at the Challah for Hunger events or donating money to a chosen tsedakah or just having a conversation with someone in a senior citizen centre and keeping them company, which allow us to grow as a person but also to bring someone else happiness. Spending one hour a week volunteering in order to give back to the community, to show our gratitude, can go a long way in changing someone’s day and possibly life.
In chapter 29 verse 3, Moses concludes by telling the people that only today, forty years after their birth as a people, have they attained “a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear” and again this message was something I really took meaning from especially the theme of gratitude and being fortunate enough to live the lives we live.
However, we see all these terrible things that go on around the world and in other people’s lives and we watch it on the news, read about it and talk about it but how many of us actually act upon it? This then links to being a bystander. If we aren’t doing anything about this then are we bystanders and is there such thing as an innocent bystander? We have been taught since we were young that if you see something bad happening, do something about it. So no, I don’t think there is such thing as an innocent bystander because after all you are just letting it all happen.
Being grateful for our lives can best be expressed by enabling others to have lives for which they may be grateful as well.