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Always

Friday, 4 September, 2020 - 7:14 am

As a Rabbi, I often have the privilege of going behind bars. Visiting incarcerated Jews is indeed a privilege. It is a very raw and real way to practice what Judaism preaches – that every human being has inherent value and that we can always make amends, do teshuvah.

Thank G-d, so far they have always let me out.

When visiting these people, I am sometimes contacted by family members who are concerned for their relatives. The families, as well as the inmates, use the opportunity for greater spiritual connection and growth. Sometimes they will offer a donation as well.

Often, they will pledge to support the good work of helping Jewish prisoners and the amazing work of the Aleph Institute.

Often, upon release, they will forget about the good work of supporting Jewish prisoners and the amazing work of the Aleph Institute.

Why are they so quick to forget?

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In this week’s parsha Ki Tavo we are taught the mitzvah of Bikkurim, bringing the first-ripened fruit to the Holy Temple and declaring our gratitude to Almighty G-d.

If you have paid attention at the annual Pesach Seder, you will be familiar with the declaration, taken from this week’s parsha and inserted into the Haggadah. Below is the text.

“An Aramean sought to destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation. And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we cried out to the L-rd, God of our fathers, and the L-rd heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the L-rd brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O L-rd, have given to me.”

This mitzvah began when the Jews finally reached their homeland, the land flowing with milk and honey. As we rejoice in our newfound security and prosperity, we reflect that it wasn’t always this way. We have suffered plenty and are grateful for the current bounty.

In a 1972 farbrengen, the Lubavitcher Rebbe reflected on why the Torah singles out these two instances of suffering – Yaakov at the hands of Lavan and the slavery in Egypt. After all, there is no shortage of instances of Jewish travails. From Esau to Amalek, from Og to a harsh desert – time and again we have only survived due to G-d’s protection and miracles.

 Yet, these two instances are the ones declared by the person bringing Bikkurim – and by countless Jews at their Pesach Seders throughout the generations.

The uniqueness of these instances, explained the Rebbe, is that they both represent situations in which our status seemed settled – in a negative fashion. Yaakov spent twenty years living with – and at the mercy of – Lavan. The Jews were ‘stuck’ in Egypt for 210 years. It’s understandable that in these circumstances we might be despondent and assume that our fate is sealed. After all, we are in an ongoing disadvantaged situation.

Miraculously, Hashem rescued our ancestors from never-ending oppression.

When the Jews reached the Holy Land they were – for the first time in many generations – in a permanently good situation. They had survived swindlers, slavery, starvation, the severe wilderness, constant attacks, and more. It would be easy to assume that we have finally made it. We are home free.

The mitzvah of Bikkurim – a mitzvah that began only once the Jews were settled into their land – is a reminder that things are never permanent. Neither permanently oppressive, nor permanently luxurious. They are always in the hands of Hashem.

In the darkest times we must never give up hope. Hashem can always help.

In the brightest times we must never give up faith. Hashem is always providing. And, it can all disappear in a moment, G-d Forbid.

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We humans have a tendency of short-term memory when the going gets good. Once free, we never want to be reminded of our tough times.

The mitzvah of Bikkurim helps us balance our perspective. It helps us remember Who is in charge – in times of suffering and times of success.

The current pandemic has been humbling to many of us in myriad ways. Let us take a page from this week’s parsha, and remember that Hashem is always with us.

This pandemic will end. Let us resolve that – even afterwards – we will remember that Hashem is always with us.

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