Moshe Kempinski
Moshe KempinskiCourtesy

Torah Portion of Ki Tavo Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8

Life is sometimes a raging river that propels us forward in a feverish pace. We not only at times lose our footing , but also lose our sense of self. We begin to try to accumulate wealth or acquire possessions in a mad rush to grant us some stability and self importance. It is this that regrettably sometimes leaves is empty and perpetually unfulfilled.

The remedy is revealed in this week’s portion and the ceremony of the First fruits, the Bikkurim.

When describing the bringing of the Bikkurim/First Fruits the Torah says the following.

And the kohen will take the basket from your hand, laying it before the altar of Hashem, your G-d,And you shall call out( VeAnitem) and say before Hashem, your G-d, "An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation.( Deuteronomy 26:4-5)

The words translated from the Hebrew VeAnitem "And you shall call out"or in other translations "and you shall declare" is understood in Hebrew as "And you shall ANSWER".

This is how it is understood in Genesis after Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers “And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" but his brothers could not answer ( LE-ANOT) him because they were startled by his presence.""( Genesis 45:3).

We see this again in the book of Samuel “The lad answered ( LE-ANOT) Saul again,""( SAMUEL I 9:8)

What question, then, was the farmer answering as he stood before the priests ( Kohanim) with the first fruit offering?

The farmer continues to explain.

And the Egypians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we cried out to Hashem, G-d of our fathers, and Hashem heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And Hashem brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.( Deuteronomy 26:6-9)

These are the words repeated at every seder night , at every seder throughout the world.

All this because of the question that has perplexed us throughout the generations. Thousands of years of struggling with hatred, oppression, transience and hatred. A never-ending repetition of the reality of "they treated us cruelly and afflicted us, "

The first question that begs to be asked is "How and why are we still here?

Yet that question pales when confronting the more dramatic question in our lives and in the lives of all of humankind.

It is a fact that He gave us this land,” a land flowing with milk and honey.". Hashem is the source of all our successes.

Yet therein lies the test and the difficult question!

Hashem warns us and through us the whole world.

lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein,and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases,and your heart grows haughty, and you forget Hashem, your G-d, Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,…. and you will say to yourself, "My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me.(Deuteronomy 8:12-17)

As a result Hashem asks us to explore every facet of our life and answer the question “Have you fallen into the trap of "and you will say to yourself, "My strength and the might of my hand has accumulated this wealth for me"( ibid 17). Has it become all about me?

We rush through our lives, accumulating, producing and achieving. We also stumble through that life at times in inaction, failure and frustration. Yet in the midst of all that we forget the source of all that we have or wish to have.

The struggles that we experience at times are there to teach us that lesson

"He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of Hashem., (Deuteronomy 8:3)

That explains the importance of the framers and their first fruits. They understand the question and are ready with the answer “And you shall answer “(VeAnitem)

After a year of toiling, planting, watering, tending, and caring for the produce man has grown, he enters his field. He sees the first ripening fruit of one of the seven species and he ties a band over this fruit and declares "This is for Bikkurim (the ceremony of first fruits)" Later, when it ripens, he places it in a basket. These baskets were then brought to the Beit HaMikdash in a festive procession. In all parts of Israel they would gather in the middle of their towns in special gatherings called Maamadot.

They awoke after spending the night in the open are when an appointed individual announced "Arise and let us go up to Zion and the house of our L-rd." The groups would then in a festive procession to Jerusalem singing, "I was happy when they said to me let us go to the house of the L-rd" (Psalms Ch 122).

The procession included a bull to be used as a thanksgiving sacrifice, adorned with gold and a wreath of olive branches, with the whole procession led by the music of flutes.

As they stood within the Temple, the one offering the Bikkurim states to the priest in the Temple,"I proclaim this day to the L-rd thy G-d that I have come unto the land which the L-rd swore unto our fathers to give them." The person then declares the Vidui recanting the travails of the Israelites till they arrived in the land, settled it and now have succeeded in gathered in its fruits.

As the procession would walk through the streets of Jerusalem, all the workmen , laborers and scholars would stop what they are doing and stand in honor of these farmers bearing Bikkurim.

The Torah commentator Bartenura raises an interesting question. According to another Jewish law, It is obligatory to stand in honor of a Torah scholar when he passes This is done not so much to honor the scholar as it is to honor the Torah that this "living Torah scroll "represents. Yet that Jewish law continues that craftsmen do not have to stop their work to stand up for such a scholar as this would interrupt their work and livelihood. Such is not the case with the law regarding these farmers bringing the first fruits. "Why", asks the Bartenura, is that so?

The reason seems to be that these farmers, in this situation, during these festive times act as high priests. They are the tools of G-d's revelation within nature.

They are the ones who know the two spiritual truths of our existence.

The first is that nothing is achieved in this world without Hashem’s involvement and blessing.

The second is that nothing is achieved until we get our hands dirty and become involved and make the blessing happen.

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved VeKol HaCholim