When one goes to someone else’s home it is not uncommon to bring a small token of thanks. This may be in the form of a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers or a coffee table book.
Whatever the gift, it is in expression of the gratitude we feel for the invitation and the kindness that our host is extending. While our stay at this person’s home may only be for a couple of hours, the goodwill that is created between us and all those around the table will last long after we leave.
For the Israelites in Egypt the exact opposite was happening. The Egyptians — our “hosts” — did not extend kindness and promote good feelings. In fact the Torah commentator, Alsheich, asserts that they instilled a contrary attitude.
In Ki Tavo, which we read this Shabbat, we are told, “The Egyptians dealt harshly with us.” Alsheich finds the language peculiar mentioning that it should have said, “The Egyptians were evil to us.”
As with all good commentators Alsheikh finds meaning in the choice of words. He points out that this means that the Egyptians, through the servitude and the horrible way they treated us, made us to behave in evil ways. We not only felt ill will toward the Egyptians but we also had a bad attitude toward our fellow Israelites.
Now, as the Israelites prepare for their entrance into Canaan and they transition from a people whose origins were in servitude, the people need to cast off both the attitudes of slavery and the animosity they held toward their fellow Israelites. They will need to develop a community in which they are unified and in which they share a sense of brotherhood that will enable them to create the society, which God is describing in these latter sections of the Torah.
The remembrance of how the Egyptians treated us is inserted to guide us toward looking at the good we have. It is in a section of the reading that is familiar to many because it is central to the Passover Haggada text. It begins, “My father was a wandering Aramean …” and ends with the two verses, “God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, Adonai, have given me.”
This is the statement made by a pilgrim to Jerusalem when bringing the first fruits — when bringing a gift to the host to show gratitude. When welcomed in and made to feel at home we are able to express the love we have for one another and not the animosity. We are able to show our gratitude for our lives and for all that we have been given.
Welcome someone to your home, to your shul, to your community — see what happens.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)