I recently participated in a conversion ceremony. As our newly dipped member of the tribe emerged, he recited the Shema. The actions of circumcision and mikveh (“the snip and dip”) create the conversion, but the statement of faith guides us for our lifetimes. Hear this, O’ Israel, the Holy One has a few other things Jews should say.
The Torah commands Jews to “do” many things. Rarely does the Torah tell us what to say. Torah does not even instruct us to say the Shema! But nearing the end, Torah offers an entire monologue. This monologue is a potent tool binding us to our history and humanity. Here’s how it goes.
Each year, we are directed to bring the first fruits of our produce to the temple. The delivery must be accompanied by a statement that connects to our liberation from Egypt and our commitment to care for others. The words relate a sampling of our bounty to the core tenets of Judaism. Perhaps we need verbal reminders that the fruits of our labor are to be shared and that our very livelihoods result from our freedom to pursue a living of our choosing.
Spend a moment with these words and imagine how they can impact your lives:
“When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield—in the third year, the year of the tithe —and have given it to the [family of the] Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements, you shall declare before your God יהוה: “I have cleared out the consecrated portion from the house; and I have given it to the [family of the] Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, just as You commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor neglected any of Your commandments: I have not eaten of it while in mourning, I have not cleared out any of it while I was impure, and I have not deposited any of it with the dead. I have obeyed my God יהוה; I have done just as You commanded me.
Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers.”
Notice that caring for the stranger, orphan, and widow takes precedence over delivering a tithe. Being a caring and engaged human is so important that we begin this required soliloquy by affirming that our commitment to people demonstrates our devotion to God. These words enliven the covenantal relationship. The act of sharing and the statement of dedication create an unending loop. We grow, we share, and we affirm. Plant, reap, donate, and repeat!
When you next consider a bonus or a financial boon, dedicate a portion to charity. Then, celebrate and affirm your demonstrated benevolence by telling others. You set in motion for yourself a holy pattern. You inspire others to follow your lead. And these are the words God wants to hear!
Rabbi Evan J. Krame