<I>Ki-Tavo</I>: The Jordan River Rules

The lesson of teamwork is of primary importance to our nation, a small, Jewish minority living in an overwhelmingly hostile Muslim Middle East. And the Torah stresses this lesson in this week's parsha.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
Some ten years ago, coach Phil Jackson of basketball's Chicago Bulls wrote a book called Sacred Hoops. Jackson wanted to dispel opinions that to win, all he had to do was say: "Michael, score." Although the Bulls had Michael Jordan, Coach Jackson knew that the Bulls could win only by playing, and living, as a team. To quote Jackson:
One of the main jobs of a coach is to reawaken that spirit of pure joy of competition, so that the players can blend together effortlessly. It's often an uphill fight. The ego-driven culture of basketball, and society in general, militates against cultivating this kind of selfless action, even for members of a team whose success as individuals is tied directly to the group performance. Our society places such a high premium on individual achievement, it's easy for players to get blinded by their own self-importance and lose a sense of interconnectedness, the essence of teamwork.
This lesson is of primary importance to our nation, a small, Jewish minority living in an overwhelmingly hostile Muslim Middle East. And the Torah stresses this lesson in this week's parsha.

The lesson of the bikkurim, the first fruits, is that all levels of Jewish society must work together, or else the curses of the Tochachah, which promise national disaster, will follow. The bikkurim section forms an introduction to the Brit Arvot Moav the Covenant of Arvut, of mutual responsibility "made separately with every individual Jew , separately guaranteeing every other individual." (Rabbi Matis Weinberg, on Rashi, Sota 37b, d'h "amar Rav Mesharshia....") This covenant between Jew and Jew, and Jew and God, began as soon as the Jews crossed the Jordan River. It was epitomized by the bikkurim.

When the farmers brought their first fruits to the Temple, they were greeted by the city folk and welcomed. One sector of society did not look down scornfully at another, and certainly did not attack it. The pilgrim farmer came to Jerusalem with the attitude that "I have come to learn from you, Ishi Kohen Gadol, my master High Priest, how to worship your Lord, the Almighty God." (Aznayim L'Torah) For his part, the Kohen Gadol views himself only as facilitator, a Jacksonian coach who teaches his students to "do the dance of life in joy," taking the basket of fruit (Devarim 26:8) "for if the Kohen sees the Jew falter, having weakness of hand and cannot 'wave the wave ' in matters of holiness and charity, then the Kohen places his hand under the hand of the Jew and helps him wave." (Aznayim L'Torah, explaining Rashi) That's Jewish teamwork, upholding the covenant of Arvut.

All commentators mention the issue of simchah , happiness, as central to this brit: "And you shall be happy in all the good that God has given you." (Devarim 26:11) Even If one fulfills all the commandments, and learns all of God's Torah, but fails do so "with happiness and goodness of heart," (28:47) then one's fate is the curses of the Tochachah. This is because he selfishly refuses to join the team, clutching his individuality so as not to have to feel grateful to the Almighty for his happiness (Rashi 26:3, commenting that the bringer of bikkurim declares that he is not an ingrate). As Rabbi Matis Weinberg writes:
One who is an ingrate feels violated by indebtedness, feels his independence usurped by gratitude.... Where the ingrate searches for self-hood through a vigorously maintained detachment, the makir tova (grateful one) discovers self-hood in a vigorously maintained attachment and interdependence - in the relationship of brit
Since the beginning of leftist rule, in June 1992, and especially during the last thirteen months since "Disengagement," we have witnessed a breakdown of brit, both between man and God, and between Jew and Jew. Wise men, from Coach Jackson to our Jewish prophets, have always recognized that the happiness of the team depends on "surrendering the me for the we." (Sacred Hoops, page 89) In dancing with the team comes the individual's true fulfillment and happiness.

When the Jewish people finally play like a team, we will realize our true potential and happiness. This means an end to the betrayal by Jew of Jew, in thinking that security and success will come by backstabbing and betrayal, by Disengagement and Convergence, Reform and Meretz. May the nation of Israel succeed in using this Elul time of teshuvah to enact a return to the brit.

More Arutz Sheva videos: