The Big Picture
Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )
Parshat Ki Tavo speaks about bringing the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem. There we make a declaration of gratitude, saying:
"An Aramite man tried to destroy my father, and our nation endured slavery in Egypt."
Huh? An Aramite tried to destroy my father, we suffered in Egypt - and this is supposed to be a declaration of gratitude?!
The commentators explain: The Aramite is Laban, who deceived our forefather Jacob by switching Rachel and Leah. (Jacob had intended to marry Rachel, but Leah appeared under the chuppah instead.) Now let's consider: If Laban never would have pulled that stunt, then Jacob would have married Rachel as he intended - and Joseph would have been the first-born son. Thus when Jacob showed favoritism toward Joseph, the other brothers would have likely not been jealous - and Joseph never would have been sold into slavery.
Now here's the catch: Joseph would never have become Egyptian prime minister who, years later, was in position to save the Jewish people from famine. So, yes, even though Laban the Aramite tried to destroy our forefather, we express the gratitude, that somehow, some way, it was all for the best.
When tragedy strikes, it's difficult to see the big picture and understand why this may have happened.
I once attended the shiva of a woman who was killed in a bus bombing in Jerusalem. She was the mother of five children, and the sheer number of mourners was horrifying - her husband, parents, many siblings, children, grandchildren - all in shock and with their garments torn in grief.
I was sitting there in silence, trying to make sense of the tragedy, when her husband spoke. He said: "We are so grateful for the life that she led. Children ... grandchildren ... not everyone merits to raise generations. And the fact that she died as a Jew, sanctifying the Name of God ... we are so grateful," he said.
No, we don't always know why things happen. When events occur that are so unfathomable, all we can do is trust in the Almighty. This is the lesson we learn when bringing those first fruits to the Temple: We express the gratitude, that somehow, some way, it's all for the best.