"Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey." Deuteronomy 26:15
The Torah portion for this week is Ki Tavo, which means "when you have entered," from Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 60:1-22.
Simple math will tell us that if we have a certain amount and then deduct a portion from that amount, the remainder will be less than what we started with. But the commandment regarding the giving of firstfruits suggests otherwise. When we give a portion of our best to God, while it may initially seem that we have less, in the long run, we end up with more, due to God's blessings.
This explains the verse that the worshiper was required to declare when bringing the firstfruits before God. After reciting a prescribed text recalling the Israelite's slavery in Egypt, God's miraculous salvation, and then entering the Promised Land, the worshiper would recite the following prayer: "Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel . . ."
The person making this declaration was testifying that the children of Israel would serve God in a manner that superseded logic they would give away their hard-earned produce; they would take away from their much-needed provisions; they would serve God beyond the limits of logic. Therefore, it was entirely fitting that the worshipers ask for God to treat them in kind - beyond the letter of the law, with mercy and undeserved abundance.
It's interesting that in the verse, the worshipers asked that God look down upon His people from heaven. In other words, the worshipers didn't want God to look too closely at their actions. As King David proclaimed in Psalm 130:3, "If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?" Truly, if God took an exact accounting, none of us would be worthy of His abundant blessings.
However, the worshipers had just gone beyond their own accounting and had given away what they had against all logic. They had looked from afar and decided that while the numbers might not make sense on paper, God would take care of the final accounting and all would be OK. Similarly, we ask God to bless us from afar - not looking at our sins, but at our overall goodness - and bless us abundantly, beyond what we might deserve.
We can take this message today as an encouragement to serve God beyond the limits of logic. When God took the Israelites out of Egypt, it happened so quickly that their bread dough didn't have time to rise. There, God was teaching us that He wants a relationship that is beyond time. Here, He is teaching us that our service must be beyond the limits of pure logic. When God has laid something on our hearts, we need to serve Him with all we have and then some. In return, God will bless us above and beyond what we ever imagined.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President