Fill Your Basket

June 11th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Before we can achieve great things we have to be able to picture great things. Someone whose parents constantly fought doesn’t know that family life can be conducted in pleasant and calm tones. A person who only knows hourly wage-earners can’t imagine acquiring a position with a large monthly salary.  Accepting your current circumstances as your normal, ongoing 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 picture 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 challenge and 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. A real attention-getter jumps off the Hebrew page—a rare word for basket.  The word ‘basket’ appears about twenty times throughout Scripture and most times the Hebrew word used is sahl.

ס   ל

L ← ha ← S

…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.

ט   נ   א

he ← N e ← T

The letter samech, pronounced ‘S’ in the first word, sahl (basket) 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.  While samech is not one of the most frequently used letters, here an unusual Hebrew word is employed in order to avoid introducing the letter samech in the more common word for basket. Why is it so important that the whole first fruits passage should not contain that letter?

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 is unrealistic and entraps you in an unchanging today.  Envision your promised land without limits but with accompanying obligations.  Make a specific plan with strategic steps, each of which is another obligation on the road to a better future, but don’t limit your picture of that future. Convert hopeless fantasies into energizing visions by eagerly anticipating the responsibilities that will accompany God’s bounty.

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6 comments

Scott Tolle says:

Timely advice! My life is starting with small steps in this direction, difficult times are starting to reshape my future in ways I never invisioned. Listening to individuals such as yourself is a key component to this change.

celesta says:

So…is there a connection then between the use of the Nun and the Aleph also in the word TENEH, instead of the enclosed SAHL, you have the open Tet + Nun + Aleph, linking the open basket (your offering/your world without boundaries and limits and hoarding that which doesn’t belong to you anyway/your world submitted to and connected to God’s sovereignty and setting Him first in your life) to the miraculous fish-wriggling, seed-sprouting, posterity-preparing, Life of GOD Himself? Kind of like the widow woman’s [God-fearing Obadiah’s wife, so I hear] pots of oil that never ran dry, thanks to God and Prophet Elijah? Walking in obedience to God and putting Him and all His ways first in everything, then you will have an “open basket” (in every dimension), that He can flow through and help enable you to germinate into all you are called to do and be. I truly pitied myself and much of the rest of the world when I began to learn about the riches and depth in the Hebrew Language and in the Alphabet itself.
Most poor “gentile” suckers have been robbed of the heritage of knowledge of the background of the essence of the LORD’S language, as you say. One example being, so many name their child whatever is trendy or what they think “sounds good”, never realizing all that really goes into creating a name, much less choosing one for your offspring. And so forth. BOO to Phonics, Ebonics, why doesn’t someone come up with HEBRONICS and teach the children to read, write, think, and communicate from GOD’s viewpoint??? 🙂 Thank you as always Rabbi Lapin, always SO amazing!

gayle says:

Ah! Ancient Jewish Wisdom calls for compassion. (We did delete the rest of the comment as it seemed to, we are sure unintentionally, lack compassion RDL and SGL).

John says:

I’ve known well enough that the poetry present in the old testament is impressive, but as most I lack the knowledge of Hebrew. Thanks for bringing to the rest of us this insightful commentary!

Joyce R. says:

Two thoughts occur. Scripture tells us that a people without vision perish. I think this connects very well with the idea of.gaining vision and actively responding to the open-handed abundance of the L-rd’s provision.

We as a community, as neighbors, as a nation, need to recapture the vision the Lord’s open-handed abundance presents to us. Right now the Lord has given us a leader with a vision for our nation. Our nation has also made great gains since his election economically. But now it is up to us to get back on track spiritually, both individually and communally.

Second, inresponse to one of Celesta’s Comments, I agree wholeheartedly that parents should prayerfully choose their children’s name. In fact, I know or know of many young people who do exactly that.

Lisa says:

Rabbi, I need to ask this question then. Within the 72 names of G-d, there is sameach- aleph- lamed which supposedly relates to prosperity. Since you noted the significance of sahl (basket), is there any revelation between the two? Thank you again Rabbi for sharing the wisdom of HaShem in you.

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