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Two Minutes of Torah: Ki Tavo - Individuals in Community

When I moved to the USA, one of the holidays that I had to get used to was Thanksgiving.  We had no equivalent back in England, and I really appreciated the fact that there was this secular holiday offering an opportunity for families to get together and to offer thanks for the bounty of being in this country and also just for being together as families.  It was striking how for so many it seems that Thanksgiving is, at its core, a communal celebration but really it is something that is celebrated by individuals and their families together in the context of the larger whole.

We have something similar in this week's Torah portion with the instruction that Moses gives to the people when they enter the land.  We are told that we should bring of the first fruits of the soil and then that we should go to the priest in charge of the time and say to him: "I acknowledge this day before Adonai your God that I have entered the land that Adonai swore to our fathers to assign to us".  Then after the priest takes the basket from the person we recite "My father was a wandering Aramean and he went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there, but there he became a great and very populous nation, and so it continues.

One of the things that is striking in this passage is the fact that we start by saying "our father - l'avoteinu", and then we say "my father - avi".  We move in this way from the communal to the personal.  We recognize first that as a community we have a connection with this land and with our story, but then we also acknowledge the fact that this connection is personal.  We give thanks not just as a community but we give thanks as individuals for what we have received. 

When traveling through the wilderness with a shared goal and shared destination that feeling of community would have inevitably been that much stronger.  We were all on this journey, making our way there together.  But once settled in the land one may have worried that those feelings of community and those bonds would have broken down in some way and that individuality would have come to dominate.  And so in this way, at our opportunity for giving thanks we start by acknowledging our communal identity.  

The land given to our fathers - l'avoteinu, but then we also recognize that we are here as individuals, and  it is in relation to the story of avi - my father that I have reached this point.  As we give thanks we must always be conscious of giving thanks for what we have all been blessed with as members of one community, but at the same time recognizing those individual gifts that each one of us possesses.  We therefore give thanks as individuals in the midst of a grateful community. 

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