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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ki Tavo

THE PAIN AND THE GAIN

104
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Have you ever traced the journey of your life? This is what the farmer in our Sedra does – recalling the path from slavery in Egypt, to independence in Israel - as he lovingly prepares to offer the Bikurim – 1st fruits to G-d.

But the beginning of his speech is somewhat peculiar. He says, "Arami Oved Avi." On a simple level, this can mean, "My father (Yakov) was a wandering Aramean" (for he lived in Aram for twenty years). This certainly makes sense, as it marks the beginning of the whole escapade.

But Rashi has a very different spin on this phrase. He says that "Arami" refers to Lavan (the Hebrew letters can be rearranged to spell "Ramai, a cheater," which Lavan surely was) who wished to destroy Yakov. But why start such a positive dialogue in such a negative way? And how big a part did Lavan actually play in Yakov’s life?

Rav Eliyahu Ki-Tov has a beautiful take on this. He says that Yakov’s troubles began when Lavan switched brides on him, substituting Leah for Rachel. The result of this was that Yakov’s first-born was Reuven, rather than Yosef, which led to bitter sibling rivalry, when Yosef self-declared that he was the heir apparent of the family. From this schism came the selling of Yosef, the descent to Egypt, the slavery of the Jews and eventual redemption.

Had Yakov married his true love Rachel, and had Yosef been born first, our history would have been radically different, and none of this balagan might have taken place.

Yet I want to suggest that there is a profound message here. Not only that it is Hashem who "pulls the strings" of history – both on a collective and individual level - but that events in our lives which often seem to be negative, even catastrophic, usually have a happy ending.
True, we had to deal with a lot of challenges as the brothers fought against one another, and we suffered in bondage for more than a century. But in the end, it was all part of the fabric of our destiny, and necessary for our ultimate survival and triumph.

As we mentally review the events of our personal lives before Rosh Hashana, we will undoubtedly feel some pain – at what we lost, at the opportunities we squandered along the way – yet we hopefully will come away with a greater sense of Hakarat Ha-Tov, appreciation for the way in which G-d has lovingly guided us and cared for us along the journey.

And we can then better express our gratitude when we gather soon to celebrate another blessed year of Life.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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