Ki Tavo: Jumping the Gun?

In this parshah, the Torah is not giving premature advice, but is instead teaching a profound lesson of emunah.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer,

Judaism הר עיבל
הר עיבל
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

And when you come into the Land that Hashem your God gives you as an inheritance and you take possession of it, and dwell in it. You shall take of the first of all fruits of the ground... And you shall respond and declare before Hashem your God... "And Hashem brought us forth from Mitzrayim (Egypt) with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great awe, and with signs and wonders. And He brought us to this place and gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the earth, which You have given me, Hashem..."  And you shall rejoice in all the goodness that Hashem your God has given to you and your household... Devarim/Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Irrespective of the halakhic interpretations of this passage, on a peshuto shel Mikra (literal interpretive) level, it is quite striking, for as soon as the Torah introduces the notion of entering Eretz Yisrael (“when you come into the Land”), it seems to jump to the mitzvah of Bikurim, First Fruits, and the requirement of farmers to thank Hashem for the Land and its bounty when they bring Bikurim to the Beit Ha-Mikdash (Temple).

In truth, the mitzvah of Bikurim and the mandatory statement of thanks, referred to as Mikra Bikurim, would not be performed and uttered until the Land was settled and divided among the Shevatim (Twelve Tribes), 14 years after entry to Eretz Yisrael! This being the case, why does the Torah present the mitzvot of Bikurim and Mikra Bikurim when referencing initial entry to the Land, such that the presentation of these mitzvot appears quite premature? (Imagine several parents of toddlers discussing which of the toddlers should marry each other when they become adults; we would tell these parents that they are really jumping the gun! – even though this happens quite often…)

The reality is that the Torah is not giving premature advice, but is instead teaching a profound lesson of emunah (faith). This lesson is that due to Hashem's preexisting relationship with B'nei Yisrael, they must trust and be confident that His promises of the Land and its bounty are true, palpable, and will without any doubt come to fruition. By informing B'nei Yisrael that their entry to Eretz Yisrael will lead to agricultural success and expressions of gratitude, the Torah fortified the people's emunah and reliance on Hashem.

In other words, the divine promise that B’nei Yisrael would prosper in the Land and ascend to the Beit Ha-Mikdash with Bikurim to express gratitude was so real and tangible that the Torah presents it as a fact that is established upon mere entry to Eretz Yisrael, rather than as an aspiration or future ambition to look forward to there later. The relationship that B’nei Yisrael shared with Hashem provided the context and unquestionable expectation for success and happiness in Eretz Yisrael, which would eminently manifest upon entry therein.

This theme actually forms a pattern throughout the entire parshah.

Bnei Yisrael are commanded to erect tablets with the words of the Torah upon passing through the Yarden (Jordan River), and again when reaching Gilgal and Har (Mount) Eival. (V. Rashi and Siftei Chachamim on 27:2.) This all provides a context to remind the nation of its preexisting relationship with Hashem, as reinforcement. The Torah then presents the Berachot and Kelalos (Blessings and Curses) to be recited at Har Gerizim and Har Eival, followed by the grand Tochacha (Reproof) of reward and punishment for observing the Torah or abandoning it.

Whereas the parshah commences with a portrayal of Bnei Yisrael acting in a manner that flows from their close connection to Hashem and their unequivocal reliance on His word, as they are always conscious of their relationship with Him, it progresses toward a state in which positive reminders are provided (at Yarden, Gilgal and Har Eival), and it then moves further toward a scenario in which actual graphic warnings are needed (the Berachot and Kelalos, and the Tochacha). This seems to be an intentional pattern, demonstrating how one’s connection with Hashem can weaken and wane. 

Let us look back to our initial, ironclad bond with Hashem and awareness of His Presence, and live our lives in that context. Under such conditions, no reminders are necessary, and no warnings are warranted. Let us live with a dynamic consciousness of Hashem’s care and love for us, His commitment to our people, and our love and obligations to Him. Let us return to Hashem with this exceptional and holy mindset, and merit a new year of only sweetness and good.