Parshat Ki Tavo: A link in the chain

Bikkurim is a unique commandment which provides us with a deep and historical perspective on the strong connection between the nation of Israel and its land.

August 22, 2013 22:31
4 minute read.
Holocaust survivors read Torah at the Western Wall

Holocaust survivors read Torah at the Kotel 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)


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And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried unto the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.

And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it down before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God.
(Deuteronomy 26, 5-10)

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The commandment of Bikkurim (First Fruits) which we read about in this week’s Torah portion is a unique commandment which provides us with a deep and historical perspective on the strong connection between the nation of Israel and its land – Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.

The Talmud describes how this commandment was fulfilled during the days when the Temple stood: The First Fruits growing on the tree were marked by the farmers immediately as they started to grow, and during the harvest, they would be placed in a separate basket.

Groups of farmers would ascend to Jerusalem, to the Temple, in a colorful and joyful procession. When they reached the city, residents would greet them and host them, and thus, in this festive atmosphere, they would ascend the Temple Mount and present the Bikkurim to the priests serving at the Temple.

But fulfillment of the commandment did not end with this.

As the Bikkurim were presented, each person would make an interesting declaration which teaches us about the content and significance of this mitzva.

The declaration in Deuteronomy 26, 5-10 is a short overview of the Jewish nation’s history before its entrance to the Land of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

It begins with a description of Lavan the Aramean who conspires against Ya’acov Avinu and tries to kill him. The description continues with the descent to Egypt and the blessed proliferation alongside the “hard bondage.”

After this, the presenter of the Bikkurim describes turning to God because of the slavery in Egypt, God’s redemption in the Exodus from Egypt through miracles and “a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs,” and the entrance into Eretz Yisrael – the good land “flowing with milk and honey.”

Finally, the Jew declares festively, “I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O Lord, hast given me.”

In this overview the man identifies himself as part of the nation’s chain of generations. He presents the historical events in the first person, as though they had occurred to him, and he ties the land – which he nurtures – to the historical chain of wondrous events which shaped the nation from its inception until it settled in serenity and independence in its land.

When the farmer sees his trees abounding with ripe fruit, his heart fills with joy. His sense of stability and security increases. The successful harvest guarantees him income, at least for the next year. There is no more appropriate time than this to shape and solidify his own outlook on the connection between himself and the good land – that on which he lives and from which he sustains himself.

Man can see himself through a narrow perspective, that which surveys the world from the day of his birth to the day of his death, and be pleased about this good position. But he can also widen and deepen his perspective and see himself as an inseparable part of the ancient history of a nation who was in exile, suffered, was liberated and settled in its land.

This kind of outlook provides a power that cannot be felt when he narrows his outlook to the decades of his life. The connection of the man to the land is empowered when he sees each fruit growing on the tree as the continuation of the nation’s development, the expression of the redemption we began when we left Egypt and came to the Land of Israel.

How appropriate is this perspective for us! The Jewish nation, which returned to Eretz Yisrael after thousands of years of exile, made the desert bloom, built cities, and planted strong roots.

We can see this amazing fact – the return of Am Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael – as a phenomenon several decades old.

But the correct perspective would be that our existence on our land is the historical continuation of the narrative described by the presenter of the First Fruits to the Temple.

Each and every one of us is a link in the chain of this ancient nation with a wondrous history: The nation that was in Egypt, was liberated, settled in the land, and built in it the Temple, was exiled, and came back to it again to build the Second Temple. And then again endured a long and difficult exile, and again returned to its land and built it with dedication and hard work, believing and hoping that the day will come and Gd will rule the entire land, and the entire world will recognize our historic rights to the land and the Divine promise given to our nation’s forefather – Avraham Avinu – “To your offspring I will give this land”! The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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