Against entitlement: why blessings can be dangerous

Deuteronomy’s teaching is clear: If you remember how much has been given to you, you will be receptive both to God’s command and to the needs of the downtrodden.

By RABBI SHAI HELD
September 5, 2017 14:49
3 minute read.
entitlement

entitlement. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)

 
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Deuteronomy portrays God as a gracious giver of gifts. It describes God as giving (n-t-n) Israel blessing (12:15); rain and crops (11:14-15); cattle and sheep (12:21); towns (13:12); settlements (16:5); sons and daughters (28:53); and the power to get wealth (8:18). All of this, of course, is in addition to God’s primary and most important gift: the land. Yet Deuteronomy worries that these gifts could easily become snares, that the people will feel entitled to God’s bounty instead of being grateful for it and that they will therefore come to forget the God who has given them so much. The first fruits ceremony prescribed in Parashat Ki Tavo is an attempt to keep gratitude from dissipating in the face of affluence and abundance.

The Israelite farmer is directed to bring his first fruits to the Temple (26:1-11). The very act of offering “some of every first fruit of the soil” (26:2) is a way of acknowledging God’s gift and Israel’s indebtedness, but the farmer is also instructed to recite a liturgical formula situating his bounty in the context of God’s long history of gracious involvement with the people:

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