Posts tagged " |First Fruits| "

First Fruits (and sometimes Nuts)

December 10th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

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Here is today’s Thought Tool quiz:

Early in 1845, Henry David Thoreau, along with about twenty of his friends, began a two and a half year-long party in a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts.  True or False?

In 1971 Ted Kaczynski, his wife, six children, a nanny, a tutor, and three puppies moved to an isolated mountain cabin in Montana from where he later sent bombs through the mail injuring dozens of people and killing three. True or False?

Brilliant twentieth century photographer Ansel Adams, who specialized in capturing the glory of America’s national parks and other natural wonders, left a legacy of thousands of pictures depicting happy crowds enjoying their natural outdoor heritage. True or False?

With thirty members of his Rotary Club, Chris McCandless hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. After being awed by nature’s grandeur, he returned home to Virginia.  True of False?

Ready for the answers?  All four statements are false. (I am sure you hardly needed me to tell you that.)  Thoreau was alone at Walden Pond.  The Unabomber lived in lonely isolation for nearly thirty years.  It is difficult to find any Ansel Adams photographs containing even one human image.  In his book, “Into the Wild,” Jon Krakauer relates how McCandless hiked alone and died alone, tragically and unnecessarily.

While it is true that many families and crowds of friends enjoy the outdoors in companionship, we each tend to experience nature in our own individual way.  To some it’s the sunrise or sunset. To others it’s lambs gamboling behind their mothers in the spring.  But whichever way you experience nature, it can resemble a museum which evokes awe more than camaraderie.  I might visit an art gallery with a group of friends, but the experience is essentially lonely.

It is not a coincidence that far more money is made, and far greater wealth created, in the crowded confines of cities than in the open spaces of nature.  Almost by definition, the great outdoors is uncrowded while making money requires considerable contact between humans.  I make money when other people who know me, like me, and trust me invite me to serve them with my good or services.  That is certainly more likely to happen when my focus is people and connection than when I revel in the splendid isolation of the wild.

This helps us understand a perplexing puzzle found in Deuteronomy 26.

We’re told that when Israel enters its land everyone should bring his annual first fruits to Jerusalem. There, he should place his basket before the priest in the Temple. He then recites a proclamation.

Wouldn’t you suppose that in appreciation of nature’s bounty the grateful farmer might recite verses praising nature and its miraculous processes? For instance, you might have expected those who brought their first fruits to articulate verses like these from Psalms.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving sing praise upon the harp to our God who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.
(Psalms 147:7-8)

Yet those bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem must utter a different passage:

An Aramean tried to destroy my father, who then went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous; But the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us terrible slavery.  And when we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression and brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders.  And he has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land that flows with milk and honey.  And now, I have brought the first fruits of the land.  
(Deuteronomy 26:5-9)

Why a condensed history lesson rather than a song of nature’s bounty?  History bonds us to those who came before us and to those who will follow us.  Moreover, emphasizing shared history bonds us to others as we gather to celebrate anniversaries, holidays and memorial observances.  If we are celebrating the sustenance we enjoy, then it is far more appropriate to celebrate our connection to people, both living and long gone, than to sing of nature.

Yes, nature provides valuable solace and rejuvenation. However, as a model for existence, God wishes for us to live among others. Keeping our histories alive is a sure way to retain the nourishment of connection. Not surprisingly, God blesses those who follow His wishes in this respect with the enormous blessing of sustenance and abundance.

Next week, Jews will gather to celebrate Chanuka. It is a blueprint for the present as well as a history of the past, with important life lessons for all of God’s children. We collected some valuable insights in our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. You can get it alone or enjoy substantial holiday savings and hours of life-enhancing learning when you order it as part of our Biblical Blueprint Set. And yes, listening with others amplifies the benefits.

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Reach Your Promised Land

March 20th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Whatever they are, keep your dreams alive. Maybe you wish you were happily married, or prospering, or healthier. Accepting your current circumstances as your normal reality is a terrible trap.

Who would have blamed the Israelites for accepting their nomadic lifestyle as normal? After two hundred years of slavery, followed by forty years wandering around a desert, how could they ever have seen themselves becoming independent landowners?

Every Israelite should have dismissed the words of Moses as hopeless fantasy when he said to them:

And it shall be when you come into the land that the

Lord your God gives you as an inheritance…

(Deuteronomy 26:1)

What made them accept the vision of their own Promised Land without skepticism?

The secret is that Moses presented them with a vision, not a fantasy. He didn’t promise a utopian future divorced from reality; he let them know that with blessing comes responsibility. That was believable. He not only promised them their Promised Land and its abundant harvests, but he also revealed the duties and obligations that would be theirs along with the abundance.

In the future, they will take their first fruits, put them into a basket, and take them on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In other words as recipients of God’s blessing they must acknowledge Him as the source of that blessing and welcome the obligation to follow His ways.

That first fruits ceremony is described in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. Now, you know how I encourage everyone to learn to read Hebrew or at least to have a rabbi (and I humbly submit my candidacy for your consideration). Well, off the Hebrew page jumps a real attention-getter—a rare word for basket. The word ‘basket’ appears about twenty times throughout Tanach and most times the Hebrew word used is sahl.

…and the birds were eating them from the basket…

(Genesis 40:17)

In our first fruits passage, the word basket appears twice (Deuteronomy 26: 2&4) but the word used is not sahl but the very unusual word, teneh.

If you own any of the audio CD programs that comprise our Genesis Journeys series, you have the study guide that accompanies each teaching. At the beginning of your study guide you will see my special layout chart of the Hebrew alphabet.

The 6th letter of the middle row is the letter samech pronounced ‘S’ (as in sahl-basket). You’ll notice that it is shaped like a closed circle.

Not only is the word sahl missing in the first fruits passage but amazingly, there is no appearance of the letter samech in all those eleven verses. The verse immediately preceding contains a letter samech (Deuteronomy 25:19) and a few verses later (Deuteronomy 26:18) we spot a samech. Why is it so important that the whole first fruits passage should not contain that letter? Even a different Hebrew word is employed in order to avoid introducing the letter samech in the more common word for basket – sahl.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the fully enclosed circular shape of the letter samech hints of boundaries and limitations. These have no place in a passage filled with God’s promise of limitless abundance. For this reason, teneh replaces sahl to signify a veritable cornucopia of plenty. But along with being able to envision God’s ability to deliver abundance, one has to recognize that responsibility accompanies that gift, signified by the bringing of the first fruits.

Never view your today as your inevitable tomorrow. But merely fantasizing about a tomorrow with health, wealth, and love entraps you in an unchanging today. It is true that your promised land comes with no limits. But it does bring accompanying obligations. Convert hopeless fantasies into energizing visions by eagerly anticipating the obligations that will accompany God’s bounty.

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