The verses we just read instruct us that when we enter into the promised land, we are to offer the first fruits of the soil to God, and we are to recite before God “My father was a wandering Aramean…” — the story of how we became slaves in Egypt and we cried out to God, and God brought us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Maybe those were instructions for specific people in a specific place and time. But I think they are also instructions for us now. Here’s what I think they say:
When you reach the place of promise, stop and remember where you come from. When you reach the thing you’ve been waiting for and working for, stop and be thankful, and then honor the sacredness of your own story. When you reach the moment you’ve been walking toward or running toward or yearning toward or trudging toward, cultivate gratitude, and then tell yourself how you got there.
When you finally “get there” — wherever “there” is for you: when you make it to Shabbat after a hard week, or when you make it to Rosh Hashanah after a long year, or when you make it to the day when you reunite with a beloved who has been far away, or when you realize that what you yearn for is already yours — remember the hardest part in your personal story, the narrow place, the Mitzrayim when your heart felt squeezed and your spirit thirsted for waters you weren’t sure where to find.
Even when we reach the place of promise –the time we’ve been waiting for, the internal spaciousness which is the opposite of Mitzrayim — Torah calls us to remember our own times of constriction. Maybe that’s because times of constriction come and go in every life, and Torah wants us to inscribe on our minds and hearts the truth that every constriction can lead to a new place of openness. If we’re willing to do the work, every constriction can be a contraction toward a new beginning.
Maybe it’s because our stories make us who we are, and the only way to fully reach the place of promise is to bring all of who we’ve been. Even the parts which were hard. Even the things about ourselves with which we struggle. Only when we bring our whole selves — including the parts of us which ache or cry out; including our own wounds — can we reach the place of promise. The place of promise is always open to us. Are we ready to gather the scattered parts of ourselves and come home?
This is the d’var Torah which Rabbi Rachel offered yesterday for parashat Ki Tavo.