September means that Emmy season is here—normally, this is a night where the stars walk the red carpet and the paparazzi is out in full force. This year it will be different. But, still, this well known night will honor some of the most celebrated celebrities in the world. And, with the awarding of those little statues comes the much-mocked acceptance speeches of the winners.
Call me crazy, but I listen especially closely during the acceptance speeches. Scripted or unscripted, it doesn’t matter—there is something really mesmerizing about a highly admired, very successful superstar taking a moment to thank their mother or God or their first grade teacher on live national television.
Why is it that actors and athletes can easily thank God in front of millions of viewers and yet, sometimes, we forget to Thank God for our successes? At those moments, superstars also acknowledge that they benefited from a long line of people, or God, who helped nurture, support and inspire them and provide an environment where they could succeed.
Acknowledging that you aren’t solely responsible for your success, and the inclination to appreciate those who helped you succeed are noble activities. But—what if along with their verbal thanks, these stars stopped to dedicate a portion of their income or other material wealth to supporting the institutions who supported them along their journey. What if their public thanks was accompanied by a promise to give back TO those institutions who helped them succeed? If they did that, they might provide an opportunity for others to succeed as well.
Well, there ARE those who do this. Chadwick Boseman, in fact, may he Rest In Peace, recently acknowledged several celebrities who helped him along his journey to become the Black Panther, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and other significant figures on the big screen.
At the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award Ceremonies in 2019, he acknowledged how Denzel Washington helped fund a scholarship for him to attend a summer acting program. He said, "Imagine receiving your letter and that your tuition for that summer was paid for and that your benefactor was none other than the dopest actor on the planet.” Boseman knew that his achievements were not his alone. He said that without Denzel Washington there would be no Black Panther. He knew he was standing on the shoulders of giants in the acting industry.
At the 150th Howard University Commencement Ceremonies in 2018, Boseman acknowledged the help of God, his parents and ancestors, his professors deceased and alive. He also acknowledged help from Felicia Rashad who taught him and had raised funds for him to attend the British American Drama Academy in London, and even Muhammad Ali— the latter of which feigned going toe to toe with the actor in the center of campus. He walked away from that encounter floating light as a butterfly.
Boseman’s life was cut short, at the age of 43, by cancer. But, he had already inspired millions of kids and adults, too, into realizing their greatness. It was his way of giving back. He visited kids in the hospital, he took time to mentor others while he taught drama at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture and the Junior Scholars Program in Harlem.
Showing appreciation both through expressing verbal appreciation and also by giving back to the community reminds me of the Israelites in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo.
This week’s Torah Portion begins with instruction of what the Israelites are to do once they enter the land. It reads:
When you come to the land that God your Lord is giving you as a heritage, occupying and settling it, you shall take the first of every fruit of the ground produced by the land that God your Lord is giving you. You must place it in a basket, and go to the site that God will choose as the place associated with God's name.
This provides us with a blueprint for life: when we accomplish something great—we might be like the Israelites and remember not only to show appreciation for what we have, but also to dedicate a portion of our material success to those who helped us. We must acknowledge that getting to that point was not solely the work of our hands, but rather, it represents the culmination of lots of elements banding together to provide for our ability to achieve such heights.
May we thank the people who have helped bless us and may we also thank God for our success. But, may we also turn and become the blessing for someone else by dedicating some portion of our time, money, or energy so that the chain of blessing is continued. Amen!
The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8 . Please visit rabbiheathermiller.com to subscribe and follow on social media.