A time of year for meaning and change


By Rabbi Bruce Aft

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8.

“My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great, powerful and populous nation. The Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our suffering, our harsh labor and our distress. The Lord then brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great fearsomeness and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. I am now bringing the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26:5-10)

These verses, which may be familiar from the Passover Haggadah, are part of this week’s Torah reading of Ki Tavo. They remind us that our ancestors didn’t live the comfortable lives of American Jews. We haven’t always had it so good.


And we aren’t as unique as we often think we are, our experiences aren’t so novel. During Sukkot, we will read from the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), which will remind us that there is nothing new under the sun.

Each year as we read Ki Tavo, we are reminded of how our ancestors were treated in bondage, “our harsh labor and our distress.” We also are reminded of the blessings that have been bestowed upon us, “this land flowing with milk and honey.”

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we should reflect on the changes we wish to make in the New Year. One of the ways to grow is to remember from where we have come and to try to figure out where we are going.

Years ago, I heard a high school social worker speak to a group of students. She asked them the year in which they had been born and then followed that year with a dash. She said she hoped these students live a long time until the year of their passing is put on the other side of the dash. She told the students that it was now up to them to fill the dash with the kinds of deeds for which they could be proud and that would fill their lives with meaning.

Recently, I shared the lyrics to “September Song” with our congregants. The song was composed by Kurt Weill and the lyrics were written by Maxwell Anderson.

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you
These precious days I’ll spend with you

The week after the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, we are reminded that the opportunities to fill our dash can be brought to an abrupt end. We may not have as much time as we had hoped.

But we are blessed to live during a time of affluence for many and opportunities to share what we have with others.

Questions to consider
What is the most meaningful moment you had during 5779?
What is a special memory that you have about one of your ancestors?
What is a change you want to make during 5780 and what impact do you think it will have in our world?

Rabbi Bruce Aft leads Adat Reyim in Springfield.

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