Ki Tavo – The First Fruit-Showing Gratitude to Hashem

By Avner Friedmann

 

Our Parsha opens with the words,[1] “It shall be that when you enter the land which HaShem your G-d is giving you as an inheritance and you take possession of it and settle it. You shall take from the first fruit of the ground, which you shall gather in from your land that HaShem your G-d is giving you, and place it in a basket. And you shall go to the place that HaShem your G-d will choose to establish His Name there. You shall come to the Cohen who will be in those days and say to him: ‘I declare today to HaShem your G-d that I entered the land which HaShem swore to our forefathers, to give to us.’ The Cohen shall take the basket from your hand and he shall place it in front of the altar of HaShem your G-d etc.”

This commandment is known as the mitzvah of “Bikurim”. Once the Jewish people settled the Land of Israel, all farmers were to take the best of the first fruits of the seven species indigenous to the Land of Israel (wheat, barley, grape wine, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and dates) to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and present them to the Cohen, who would place them as an offering before the altar of HaShem. This ritual also included a moving declaration of gratitude to HaShem for giving us the land of Israel, for the bountiful fruits of the Land and for HaShem’s eternal role in guiding Jewish destiny.

When giving the fruit, the farmer would make the following statement:[2] “An Aramean wanted to annihilate my father[3]. He went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number but there he became a great, powerful and populous nation. The Egyptians mistreated and afflicted us and assigned us to hard labor. We cried out to HaShem, the G-d of our fathers. HaShem heard our voice and saw our affliction, toil and oppression. HaShem brought us out from Egypt with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, with great awe-inspiring acts, signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land – a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, see, I have brought the first fruit of the ground which You HaShem, have given me.” The obligation to perform this mitzvah only began once they conquered the land, allotted each tribe with its territory and settled it. This took place over a period of fourteen years[4].

The purpose of the mitzvah is to recognize that HaShem is the source of all blessings. When a person finds success and affluence in his endeavors, he can easily become complacent and attribute all his success to himself rather than to HaShem. He could think,[5] “My own strength and the power of my own hand brought me all this wealth!” He becomes proud and forgets Hashem, heaven forbid. This mitzvah teaches us the humility to realize that whatever we have been blessed with, including our strength, intelligence and talents are all a gift from G-d.

This concept is similar to all the various blessings, especially the blessings after eating a meal which is an actual Torah commandment, as the verse states,[6] “You shall eat, be satisfied and bless HaShem your G-d for the good land that He gave you.”

Generally, all the blessings remind us of HaShem and how important He is to our very life and existence. Because of this, the Chayei Adam[7]states that when blessing, we should try to concentrate specifically on the meaning of the words we are saying. This is especially true of blessings that are said on a regular basis and therefore have a tendency to become second nature to us and be said by rote.  One should take special precaution to remember that he is speaking directly to his Creator and to thank Him for all the bountiful blessings He has bestowed upon him.

Actually, this is the very essence of a Jew, because the meaning of the word Jew (Yehudi) is “a person who is thankful to HaShem”. Moreover, Nachmanides[8] states[9] that the meaning behind all mitzvot is faith and thankfulness to HaShem for having created us and given us life.

The Netivot Shalom[10] writes regarding the mitzvah of Bikurim that after a whole year of toiling and working his field, the natural instinct of a person is to immediately want to eat and enjoy the fruits of his labor. However, this mitzvah teaches us to restrain our pleasures and desires and sublimate them to HaShem. Instead, he designates this fruit by tying it with a ribbon and consecrates it to HaShem[11]. Then he takes to Jerusalem and gives it as an offering of thanks.

By offering his choicest and dearest produce, it becomes dear to HaShem as well. This is likened to a small child who gives his father his favorite toy because he loves him so much. Of course, the toy is of little value to the father, but because he knows how dear it is to the child, he derives much joy and satisfaction from it and the gift becomes something that he too cherishes. The same principle applies to our relationship with Hashem. Ultimately, HaShem desires our hearts.[12] By giving our small offerings to Hashem with all our heart and soul, we give Him tremendous pleasure and satisfaction.

May it come to pass that we sincerely give thanks to HaShem with all our being and that He will look into the heart of every Jew and see that in reality, in our heart of hearts, every Jew truly loves HaShem, cherishes Him and wants to be with Him; and may HaShem respond by being with us in an open and revealed way. At that time we will have finally accomplished our ultimate purpose of making the world a dwelling place for HaShem.

 


[1]  Deuteronomy 26:1-4

[2] Deuteronomy 26:5-10

[3] This refers to Laban the Aramean father-in-law who wanted to murder our father Yaakov, along with Yaakov’s whole family, which included Laban’s daughters and grandchildren.

[4] Rashi on Deuteronomy 26:1

[5] Deuteronomy 8:17

[6] Deuteronomy 8:10

[7]  Chayei Adam 5:21

[8] Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, popularly known as the Ramban

[9]  On the end of Parshat Bo

[10] On Parshat Ki Tavo

[11]  Talmud, Tractate Bikurim, 3a.

[12]  Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 106b

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