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Knee-Jerk Praise

Friday, 20 September, 2019 - 8:05 am

Sometimes, when attending or viewing a ballgame it’s difficult to assess exactly what’s happening on the field. Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear when something favorable occurs to the team I support. The field might be too crowded to decipher exactly what happened, but I’m certain that my team has control of the ball. Turns out it was a fumble recovery in our favor. My excitement and cheering began before I even knew what had transpired.

In fact, I might need to wait for the announcer, the instant replay or a friend’s explanation to figure out what really occurred. No matter. I’m cheering because I sense something went right for my team.

I may not know why I’m on board, but I am fully on board.

Now: Celebrate.

Later: Learn why.

***

In this week’s Parsha Ki Tavo we read about the mitzvah of bikkurim, offering the first fruits to the Almighty. The Torah enjoins us, “And it will be, when you come into the land which the Lord, your G-d, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your G-d, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your G-d, will choose to have His Name dwell there.” The text continues to elaborate a prayer that was recited by the person bringing the fruit, including the key phrase, “And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

The Midrashic work, Sifrei, comments that this mitzvah was obligatory immediately upon entering the land of Israel, even prior to fully conquering and settling the land (which lasted 14 years).

How could one bless G-d for a land flowing with milk and honey when we have not yet entirely captured it, let alone discovered its milk and honey?

***

The Chassidic Rebbes explain that the answer lies in the secret of the Modeh Ani prayer. When we arise in the morning – prior to washing one’s hands or dressing – we recite, “I offer thanks to You, O living and everlasting king, for having restored my soul within me; great is Your faithfulness.”

We have not yet left our beds. We have not had a chance to reflect on the beauty of a new day. Our minds are still foggy from sleep, our bodies are beginning to acclimate to the world around us. But we are already praising G-d.

How can we offer thanks in this barely-conscious condition? Should we not wait until we have visited the restroom, dressed and had a moment to study and appreciate the gift of life we have just received? Why pray in bed? Does G-d want our half-baked offering of gratitude?

***

The Mystics clarify that this prayer represents the gut reaction of the soul to life itself. True, we are unable to detail the virtues of life. We are not yet capable of philosophizing on G-d’s greatness. But we are certain of one thing. I’m alive. And it’s because of Him. Gee. Thanks!

Though our knowledge is primitive and indistinct, it stems from an untainted degree of the soul; the purity of the naked soul itself bursts forth.

***

This, too, is the meaning of offering bikkurim immediately upon arrival in Israel. We don’t yet know how to define the advantages of the Holy Land. But we do recognize it’s special. And for that we offer immediate praise to G-d.

***

As we prepare for Rosh Hashana, which commemorates the creation of the world, let us offer thanks to Hashem for the brilliant universe we occupy. We’ll figure out the details later.

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