What is our story? How would we recite it in one paragraph?
Each of us would likely craft a narrative that speaks about our birthplace, our family, where we lived the longest, and what were the most important achievements in our lives.
When I was asked to provide information for the inscription on my Doctor of Divinity degree, it had to hit what we might call the “high points” of what was then a 25 year career. It mentioned leadership both inside and outside the congregation, and it still serves as an accurate reflection of who I am and what I do. That paragraph was read by the president of Hebrew Union College as he was about to offer me words of blessing at a special ceremony.
In this week’s Torah reading, the Israelites learned that they would be asked, after settling in the promised land, to bring the first fruit of the harvest as an expression of humility and gratitude for making their way to that land after centuries of slavery in Egypt.
After they presented the basket of produce to the priest, each Israelite was required to recite a formula which traced their story, from wanderings to a sojourn in Egypt filled with hardship, to God’s deliverance, to their entry into the land where they would make their home. It was their way of saying, “God, thank you – we couldn’t have done it without you.”
Perhaps that is the essence of the combined message of the words we pray in every service. That could be the reason that we do what we do for this congregation. Our involvement does keep us connected to each other and strengthens our feeling of Jewish community. But maybe, just maybe, our presence and our work for Temple is like the Israelite’s presentation of the basket of first fruit to the priest. That act was a reflection of pride, thanksgiving, humility, faith and remembrance. And those values can permeate our service to this congregation, no matter what we do. So as we continue to strengthen Temple Beth-El, let us always have that phrase in the back of our minds, recognizing that every act on behalf of Temple is touched by holiness. And may this be our thought at the beginning and end of each day, so that we can find the best in our giving and living: “God, thank you – I couldn’t have done it without you.”