The fruits of past, present and future

Reading this week's Torah portion, the writer is overcome with a rush of triumph.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann, | updated: 08:34

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As I search for real-world meanings in this week’s Torah reading of Ki Seitze, dealing with the Jews going to war against their enemies, and the following parsha of Ki Tasvo, describing their entry into the Promised Land and the commandment to bring your first fruits to the Temple, I am overcome with a rush of triumph. Yes, these ancient words written thousands of years ago are relevant and moving.

Though I have no plans of going to battle against anyone or planting first-fruit crops, the parshas resonate with celebration of my quiet life in my family home. 

Against the backdrop Ki Seitze, detailing the horrific persecution that we, the Jewish people, endured under Laban the Amorite and then the crushing whips of years of Egyptian bondage, Ki Tsavo lifts us up with the eloquent proclamation of the thankful farmer proudly bringing the fruits of his labor to Jerusalem.

The juxtaposition of these two parshas crackles with power. We refused to succumb to our tormentors’ oppression. And rather than being crippled by victimhood, we propelled ourselves forward to conquer our G-d-given land of Israel and reap its harvests. The farmer’s bountiful crop was born of thousands of years that preceded it. 

When the new fruits were brought to Jerusalem, they were tenderly secured in the farmer’s simple basket. He hugged that basket with a tenacious and grateful embrace. The farmer had journeyed by foot to Jerusalem to offer a thanksgiving prayer that brought to life his people’s past, present and future. 

So why do I draw so much personal relevance from these two parshas? Just yesterday, my daughter Chaya, thank G-d, gave birth to a healthy baby boy. And as I cradle my grandson, I, too, think of what it took for me to experience these magnificent first fruits.

The first words of Parshat Ki Seitze reverberate in my mind: Ki seitze lamilchamaha al ohvecho. “When you will go out to war on your enemy.” But applied to our family, I interpret this as “When you surmount your enemy.” 

On April 11, 1945, my father, of blessed memory, was liberated by American forces from Halberstadt concentration camp. Just 17 years old, he lay on a pile of straw, and he literally had no strength to get up. Malnourished, suffering with beriberi and now orphaned, he confronted an existential question: Is life really worth continuing?  

It would have been so much easier for my father to concede defeat and end his journey onward. But my father dedicated himself to surmounting what the Nazi beasts had done to his family. He resolved to be the victor. He was on a journey to bring his first fruits to Jerusalem.

With the birth of his latest grandchild, my father’s triumph over enemies and his dedication to bringing first fruits to Jerusalem that began 73 years ago continues on. 

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