The Torah relates that after people have come into the Promised Land, they were to bring an offering of their first fruits to the Temple. It was to be an occasion of thanksgiving to God, by whose favor the Israelites had been rescued from the hardships of the past, and brought to its own land.
And as the individual presented those first fruits, he/she would make a declaration:
“And the Egyptians dwelt ill with us and afflicted us… and we cried unto the lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord hear our voice…and brought us forth out of Egypt…And He hath brought unto this place and given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
In this ancient declaration, there are some of the most important values and ideals of our Jewish religion.
There is the ideal of feeling gratitude; the reminder that we not take our blessings for granted, or feel that we are somehow entitled to the good things that we have in our lives. Our prayers and our rituals summon us to open our eyes and our hearts to the wonders and miracles that fill our daily lives.
And in this ancient declaration, there is the value of memory. Remembering a past which had too often known pain and suffering. And so for us today, as we think of the Jewish past, it is one that should inspire in us a sense of compassion toward all of those of our world who must endure the cruelties that people bring upon others.
And there is another message in that declaration: our enduring link to the Land of Israel. The land as a setting wherein our spiritual ancestors attempted to establish a more humane society than was known in the ancient world.
Author Saul Bellow wrote: “A man is only as good as what he loves.” And so we might add to that: “A people is only as good or as worthy as what it loves!” Gratitude, memory, laboring for a more humane and just and peaceful world, these are the things that we Jews love.
Rabbi David Greenberg