Ki Tavo: Loving and Honoring God

BikkurimOur Sages teach: (Bava Basra 9b.) “A person who gives a coin to a poor person is granted six blessings; one who gratifies him is blessed elevenfold.” Now, gratifying does not necessarily mean giving more money. It means giving a positive feeling, showing the recipient that you care about him, and that he means something to you. When one so invests himself in another person, putting enough of himself into the stranger that the person feels appreciated, he has given something far greater than money. And so he receives a more ample blessing from G-d.

This leads to a deeper concept: Appreciation stems from involvement; the deeper the relationship between people, the more one appreciates the uniqueness of the other. When a person appreciates a colleague, he is motivated to do whatever he can for that other person.

These concepts apply, not only to our relationships with our fellow man, but also to our relationship with G-d.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Entering Deeper and Deeper”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tavo

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

I’ve commented more than once that there is an inseparable relationship in the life of a believer between our relationship with other people and our relationship with God. We see here that not only does Jesus teach this lesson as the two most important commandments to learn and obey, but that both ancient and modern Judaism also cherishes this teaching. It resides at the heart of the Torah Portion for this week and should reside at the core who we are as people of God.

Rabbi Touger expands on his commentary and illuminates us further:

One of the major thrusts in Judaism is hakaras hatov, appreciation of the good which G-d constantly bestows upon us. And as with appreciation of our fellow man, the emphasis is on appreciating not only the material dimension of G-d’s kindness, but also the love and care which He showers on every person.

In this vein, we can understand the sequence of our Torah reading, Parshas Ki Savo. The reading begins by describing the mitzvah of bikkurim, (Deuteronomy 26:1-11.) the first fruits which the Jews would bring to the Beis HaMikdash, and shortly afterwards speaks of a covenant concerning the entire Torah. (Op. cit.: 16ff.)

What is the connection between these subjects?

The mitzvah of bikkurim was instituted to show that our gratitude for the good G-d has granted us, (Rashi, gloss to Deuteronomy 26:3.) and to display our appreciation to Him for “granting us all the blessings of this world.” (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 606.) And this appreciation is not expressed merely by words of thanks, but through deed.

Rabbi Touger goes on to describe the deeds of ancient times, were to offer first fruits to God in deep appreciation for all that he bestowed upon the people of Israel, but that appreciation would be incomplete if we didn’t also offer gifts to our fellow human beings. I don’t mean just material goods, although these are important, but the gifts of compassion, mercy, kindness, and justice. From those gifts flow food for the hungry, comfort for the widow, provision for the bride, and spending time with the sick.

If we say we love God, how are we to express this today? Even a Jew cannot offer sacrifices without a Temple. As we approach the High Holidays, many Jews are giving abundantly to charity, offering impassioned prayers, and seeking to repair damaged relationships. In “offering” to God, we have no choice but to give to the people in need around us, for loving people is indeed loving God, just as He loves us.

If anyone truly intends to repent, either because of the approach of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or because of our imperative as Christians to continually repent before God through Jesus Christ, it would be foolish to imagine we didn’t have to repent and ask forgiveness of those we may have hurt with our careless words and actions.

But it goes beyond repentance and forgiveness and giving to charity. We have a perpetual responsibility to honor others as God honored Christ, for only in seeking the honor of our friend as if it were our own, can we truly become honorable before God and show the world that God deserves much great honor.

Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own.

-Ethics of the Fathers 2:15

Pride, honor, and acclaim have an attraction all their own, but our Sages warn us that these may be destructive (Ethics of the Fathers 4:28). The frustration people may experience when they feel they did not receive due recognition may be extremely distressing.

People who crave honor may sometimes attempt to achieve it by deflating others, thinking that their own image is enhanced when others are disparaged. The truth, however, is just the reverse: when one deflates another, one’s own image is diminished.

Rabbi Nechunya’s students asked him, “By what merits did you achieve long life?” He answered, “I never accepted any honor that was at another person’s expense.” As an example the Talmud tells that when Rav Chana Bar Chanilai visited Rabbi Huna, he wanted to relieve the latter of carrying a shovel on his shoulder. Rabbi Huna objected, saying, “Since it is not your custom to be seen carrying a shovel, you should not do so now” (Megillah 28a). Rav Chana was willing to forgo his own honor for Rabbi Huna’s sake, but Rabbi Huna would not hear of it.

Why does such an attitude merit long life? A person who is not preoccupied with his image, and is not obsessed with receiving honor and public recognition, is free of the emotional stress and frustration that plague those whose cravings for acclaim are bottomless pits. These stresses can be psychologically and physically devastating, and dispensing with them can indeed prolong life.

Aptly did Rabbi Elazar HaKappar say that honor drives a man out of this world (Ethics of the Fathers 4:28). One who pursues honors in this world mortally harms his chance for happiness.

Today I shall…

concentrate on being respectful to others, and avoid pursuing recognition from others.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 18”

Seek to show honor to God by honoring people in your midst, not just your friends or those who are like you, but the pauper, the outcast, the lonely, and misfit, for they are all Children of God, even as you are.

Good Shabbos.

2 thoughts on “Ki Tavo: Loving and Honoring God”

  1. James, I really appreciate the skill with which you write. Very thought provoking and …not always easy to honor, or even remember that those whom the LORD puts in our paths each day are worthy of honor because they are His creation. Thank you.

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