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What's Our Story? Lessons in Ki Tavo

I’m borrowing from Rabbi Sacks this week because I believe that it ties in with so many events that are happening right now. I see a decline happening, not only in America, but around the world. We’ve forgotten to share our story. One of the things that set America apart from other countries is that the founders were entrenched in learning the Bible. They created a society based on a covenant with a dependence on knowledgeable citizens. This is very similar to the founding of B’nai Yisrael.

By telling our story, we can answer the questions such as “Who are we?” “What’s our purpose?” and “Why are we here?” As Barbara Hardy put it: “We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticise, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative”(Barbara Hardy). In Judaism, we tell our story to our children. We tell our story every week via the weekly Parasha.

Throughout the book of Devarim Moshe is retelling the story to the next generation. They are reminded of what G-d did for their parents, the mistakes they made, and what to expect for the future. In Parashat Ki Tavo, my Bat Mitzvah Parasha, Moshe tells B’nai Yisrael that when they enter, conquer, and settle the land, they must bring the first ripened fruits to the Temple as a way of giving thanks to G-d (Devarim 26:2).

וְלָקַחְתָּ֞ מֵרֵאשִׁ֣ית  כׇּל־פְּרִ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר תָּבִ֧יא מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֛ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָ֖ךְ וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ בַטֶּ֑נֶא וְהָֽלַכְתָּ֙ אֶל־הַמָּק֔וֹם

אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָֽׁם

They also had to make a declaration. The declaration tells their story:

וְעָנִ֨יתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ לִפְנֵ֣י  יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י וַיֵּ֣רֶד מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וַיָּ֥גׇר שָׁ֖ם בִּמְתֵ֣י מְעָ֑ט וַֽיְהִי־שָׁ֕ם לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל עָצ֥וּם וָרָֽב

וַיָּרֵ֧עוּ אֹתָ֛נוּ הַמִּצְרִ֖ים וַיְעַנּ֑וּנוּ וַיִּתְּנ֥וּ עָלֵ֖ינוּ עֲבֹדָ֥ה קָשָֽׁה

וַנִּצְעַ֕ק אֶל־יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֣י אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע יְהֹוָה֙ אֶת־קֹלֵ֔נוּ וַיַּ֧רְא אֶת־עׇנְיֵ֛נוּ וְאֶת־עֲמָלֵ֖נוּ וְאֶֽת־לַחֲצֵֽנוּ

וַיּוֹצִאֵ֤נוּ יְהֹוָה֙ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם בְּיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבְמֹרָ֖א גָּדֹ֑ל וּבְאֹת֖וֹת וּבְמֹפְתִֽים

My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt and lived there, few in number, there becoming a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians ill-treated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. (Deut. 26:5-8)

At that point, Jews were commanded to become a nation of storytellers. Many times throughout the book of Devarim Moshe reminds us to teach our children. It teaches us that we are all guardians of that story. Great leaders tell that story to the group, the greatest of leaders, teaches the group to become storytellers.

I see so many parallels to the story of America. One of the things that sets America apart is the fact that it has a national story. Families learned about America’s story together. Rabbi Sacks writes “A covenantal narrative is always inclusive, the property of all its citizens, newcomers as well as the native-born. It says to everyone, regardless of class or creed: this is who we are. It creates a sense of common identity that transcends other identities. That is why, for example, Martin Luther King Jr. was able to use it to such effect in some of his greatest speeches. He was telling his fellow African Americans to see themselves as an equal part of the nation. At the same time, he was telling white-Americans to honour their commitment to the Declaration of Independence and its statement that ‘all men are created equal.” When a nation forgets it’s story, it becomes lost.

We must continue to tell our story. It begins at home. Families can sit down and read together, leaders can teach their followers, and then we must pass on our story to future generations.


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