On Sunday, my family and I went mini-golfing at a place called the Magic Castle. My three-year-old daughter Hannah had never gone golfing before. Nonetheless, she insisted on swinging the club herself and had a great time hitting the ball as best she could. On one of the holes, she took about ten strokes and then got tired of trying to hit the ball. She simply picked up the ball, put it in the hole and cheered with delight, “Yeah! I got a hole in one!”
This week’s Torah portion also deals with celebrating a moment of victory. Moses explains to the people that when they reach the Promised Land and settle in it, they should bring the first fruits of their harvest in a basket to the Temple and make a declaration. However, the declaration they are to make is not as simple as “Yeah! We won!” Instead, it’s fraught with both joy and pain. The people recited the words which since have become central to the Passover Haggadah:
My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor on us. We cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery and our oppression. The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched army, and awesome power and by signs and portents. He 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, O Lord has given me.
Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen noted that this elaborate declaration not only expresses gratitude but also acknowledges the pain entailed in getting there. Our tendency in victory is to forget our struggles. Like Hannah, if it took us ten strokes to get the ball in the hole, we would prefer to cheer and pretend it was a hole in one. However, the portion encourages us to remember the challenges and thank God for surviving those struggles.
As we creep ever- closer to the New Year, this week’s portion calls on us to ask questions which can help evaluate the year that has passed. What dream has been realized for you this year? What object would you choose to put in your basket as a symbol of gratitude? What adversity have you experienced this year and how has God helped you survive that suffering?
In life, as in golf, many failed attempts are often required before success is reached. Yet, even when we get a hole in ten, we can celebrate as much as if we had achieved a hole in one.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.