Parashat Re'eh Torah Reading: D'varim/Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
This week's Torah portion speaks with great joy of the three Pilgrimage Festivals of the Jewish calendar: "Three times a year--on the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Pesah), on the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and on the Feast of Booths (Sukkot)--all your males shall appear before the Holy One your God in the place that God will choose. They shall not appear before the Holy One empty-handed, but each according to their own gift, according to the blessing that the Holy One your God has bestowed upon you."
I am grateful to my colleague, Rabbi Brad Artson, for the lovely insight that these verses teach us that celebration means giving and sharing as well as receiving. Rabbi Artson cites the Talmud that the gift one brings to God should be: "(Gittin 59a), "in accordance with one's own acumen." In other words, there is not one standardized gift that is acceptable to God when we come to celebrate the Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot . . . or, indeed, any time we come together to pray, celebrate or learn. But rather the gift of spirit, devotion and engagement that we bring must be uniquely meaningful to each of us whatever our "acumen," whatever our level of Hebrew, of knowledge, or commitment.
I feel that there is another exceptional element to the gifts we bring to God when we gather before God not empty-handed: I have very vivid memories of my parents handing me a few coins to bring to Sunday School for me to donate to "Keren Ami," a fund for the very young state of Israel. The gift I brought was actually given to me from others, from my parents, with the understanding that I would, in turn, give that gift to others.
The dynamic of the gifts we bring to God is a bit different . . . for the gifts we offer God at the time of our celebrations with God are the gifts that God blessed us with in the first place! Our spirits, our families and friends, our community . . . these are all our blessings. And it is in community, sitting with family and friends, opening our hearts to God that we give share with God the joy of our Festivals and the peace of our Sabbaths.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.