“During the year, we live our lives forward, during the High Holidays we are encouraged to understand our lives backwards”
by Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This week’s Parasha begins by saying: “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in … “(Deuteronomy 26: 1).
After so much suffering as slaves, after years of wandering in the desert, the special moment finally came, the entrance to the desired land of Israel. The people went through many obstacles and made many mistakes; they experienced pains sorrows and fears.
At last came the long-awaited moment. What should the people have done as they entered the land of their dreams? What would you have done upon arriving there? What did God command in the Torah?
“… you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name” (Devarim 26: 2).
The first thing they had to do when they entered the land of Israel was to take the Bikurim, the first fruits of their produce, and bring them to the Temple. These fruits were a symbol of their work in their own land, of their freedom to work for themselves, and of their stability as their wanderings had ceased, and also the fruits symbolize that the great dream had come true.
Besides bringing the fruits, they also had to recite the story that would remind them of the history of their people. Starting with Abraham, then recounting their difficulties and suffering when they were slaves in Egypt, retelling their liberation, and finally describing their arrival in the land of Israel. They not only had to bring the fruits, but also to recite a text, in order to remember the story of where they came from, how they came to the new land, and defining who they were. What was the reason for this?
Maybe the goal of this commandment was to enable the new generation to remember that their ancestors had made a difficult journey, so they could identify with them and feel what their ancestors felt and value what it meant to their ancestors to have those first fruits in their hands.
Maybe that ceremony was the first time that the people took the time to review their past and understand it better. After entering the land and having their hands filled with the fruits of their labor, they could give to all their suffering and their difficult journey a new meaning and insight.
Being challenged by the obstacles of the dessert, they couldn’t see the course of their lives in a wide and critical perspective. They just needed to survive.
In this regard, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said: “Life is lived forward but understood backwards.”
Usually we live our lives at a frenetic pace that it is difficult to acquire the perspective necessary to understand the possible consequences of the decisions we make.
We are in the month of Elul, getting ready for the High Holidays. During this time of the year, our tradition encourages us to take a step back from our lives and review our past year. As the people of Israel reviewed their past while bringing their first fruits to the Temple, we also are encouraged to review our past while we celebrate the fruits we have collected this year with many wishes and hopes for the new year.
During the course of the year we live our lives forward, however, during the High Holidays we are encouraged to understand our lives backwards, connecting with our roots, our traditions, and the deeds we have done during this year. Understanding the course of our lives, we have yet the chance to choose a different path- if we think it would be better for us. We just need to take a step back and pray, meditate, and reflect about our own lives and be thankful for the fruits we have collected this year.