Never Forget Our Humble Beginnings

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The reading this Shabbat is another one of my favorite Biblical narratives. The previous Shabbat was Ki Teitzei, “when you go out to war”. This Shabbat the reading is from a Torah portion that is called Ki Tavo, “when you come in”. The reading is from Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8.

The scripture gives instructions to the children of Israel how to enter the land of Canaan. The first instruction when you enter the land of Canaan, the land that the Lord has given you, is to gather the first fruits of the land and the trees, and put them in a basket, and take them to the house of the Lord, and dedicate your first fruits gathered in your new land to the Lord.

The setting of this event is on the day of Pentecost, Shavuot — the feast of weeks. The feast of weeks falls exactly 50 days after the Passover. If the Passover is in the end of March or the middle of April, Shavuot/Pentecost is 50 days later. In fact, that is why the feast is called Pentecost, because Pentecost means “50” in Greek.

These days are commanded by the Torah to be accounted for from the day after eating the Passover to the 50th day. This counting is of such importance, and it is called “the counting of the sheaves” (in Hebrew, “sephirat ha-omer”).

We must remember that it is no accident that the apostles of Yeshua gathered on Mount Zion on the feast of Pentecost and waited on top of Mount Zion for the power of God to be poured out on them, as Yeshua promised would happen. Why specifically on the day of Pentecost? Because the day of Pentecost is the day of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, exactly 50 days after they left Egypt.

But, there is another element of great importance related to Pentecost, and that is the promises given by the prophets of God that the Gentiles will come to Jerusalem, and that the Gentiles will say to each other:

“Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” — Isaiah 2:3 [NKJV]

This prophecy by Isaiah is a prediction of two things:

  1. The giving of the Torah from Jerusalem and Mount Zion.
  2. The gentiles will come up to Jerusalem and Mount Zion to worship the God of Israel.

It is not indicated in any biblical text that the giving of the Torah from Jerusalem and Mount Zion will be a different and totally new Torah (God’s instructions), but a renewal of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. In fact, what happened in Jerusalem on that Pentecost around the year 30 CE (AD — as Catholics indicated the counting of the years) is very similar and parallel to what happened at the foot of Mount Sinai when Moses came down with the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

There were torches of fire over the people. There was a revelation of God’s words in different tongues, and the splitting of the tongues — the languages — had also a physically-visible aspect. The One God spoke from the mountain, and His voice split into many tongues.

Because the English translations, and even earlier Latin translations, of the biblical text didn’t associate what happened on Mount Zion with what happened many years before on Mount Sinai, they couldn’t understand the setting of the event and they didn’t associate what is happening with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Therefore, they had a deep lacuna (gap) in their interpretation.

One of the most interesting and intriguing things that happened during the feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) in our texts is that we have the only text in the Bible that tells us how and what was said by the worshipper, when he brought his basket with the first fruits of the land and the gifts to the Temple, and presented his offerings to the priests:

“And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us.’” — Deuteronomy 26:3-6 [NKJV]

This is one of the most intriguing texts for me in the Torah. Here is seemingly a successful farmer who is bringing his offering of the best of the best of his produce of fruits and vegetables and cereals, a basket full of good things dedicated to the God of Israel. And he says:

“My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us.”

This is an Israelite worshipper coming to Jerusalem, or to Shiloh, to worship God with a basket full of fresh fruit and vegetables, the first fruits of the land right after the summer harvest, and what he has to say is, “My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation…”

If I analyze this statement there is in it the classical “immigrant” paradigm. “I came with nothing, almost perishing, and in this new land, I became great, mighty, and populous.”

But, the person who is saying these things to the priest in the Temple or in the Tent of Meeting is a person who has land, prosperous land, and a harvest of wonderful first fruits. The summer wheat harvest is finished. His storehouses are full and his barns are ready for the winter months. He could dance and rejoice and show off his successful year and his full bank account.

But, no! He remembers the humble beginning of his family! He remembers Abraham his father (several generations earlier). He remembers that Abraham was a wanderer, lived in tents, had to go out of the country that God promised him as an inheritance and outside of His own land, in Egypt under the horrible conditions of a harsh slavery that lasted more than 200 years, where Israel became a great nation.

What can we learn from this Torah portion?

We must always remember our humble beginnings. We must always remember that our success is not based on our stability and wealth, but our success is based on the hardship of bondage and affliction.

The next verses in Deuteronomy 26:7-9 give us the secret of our success, and ought to keep us humble and full of gratitude, and above all give all the credit of what is good and faithful and prosperous to the Lord only:

“Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey…’” — Deuteronomy 26:7-9

This text has built in it three things that, if we ever forget them, the Lord makes sure that we repeat our ethos, and the story repeats itself. Much to my regret we have had to do this exercise more than one time in our history.

In conclusion, let us not forget where we came from and who the father or our nation and the father of all the faithful is: a man who left the great cities of the ancient Middle East, Ur and Haran, to follow God, and came down to the land of Canaan that was a very messy and difficult place, because everyone who lived here in this land at that time was a foreigner (“the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite”).

This was not enough, because Abraham, and after him Isaac his son, and after him Jacob and his children, all had to taste the exile the diaspora before they could settle in the land and repeat this school of hard knocks more than once: in the Babylonian exile, and then the fall of Jerusalem and the exile after the fall of Jerusalem by the Romans, an exile that we are still in the process of restoration and return from — a cure of this nation of Israel and preparation for the return of the bridegroom to take His bride.

The members of the nation of Israel, the physical children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, must remember, as in the days of Moses and Israel dwelling in the land of Canaan, a prosperous and successful nation, that our stability and success are only when we are dependent on God and His promises. An attitude of humility and repentance and awareness that our good life in this land is only dependent on God’s goodness and not on the charity and support of the nations.

Our recognition that our future is based on our recognition and dependence on God, and our faithful relationship to Him whom He sent to be our teacher and the fulfillment of our destiny to be the light of the world is based on our humble submission to the Creator and His instruction!

We must remember that the words of Hosea the prophet in the process of our repentance:

“O Israel, return to the Lord your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity; Take words with you, And return to the Lord. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, We will not ride on horses, Nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, “You are our gods.” For in You the fatherless finds mercy.’ I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, And lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, And his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; They shall be revived like grain, And grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; Your fruit is found in Me. Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; The righteous walk in them, But transgressors stumble in them.” — Hosea 14:1-9 [NKJV]

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.