"... you shall take of the first of all the fruit... "
Elul 13, 5769/September 2, 2009
The book of Deuteronomy is rapidly drawing to a close, and with it, of course, Moses' stay on this earth. These final chapters are dedicated to his preparing the children of Israel for entering, conquering, and settling the long-promised land, and for establishing a just and righteous society based on the Torah - the word of the living G-d.
Toward this aim many of the commandments being communicated are concerned with man's behavior toward his fellow man, (bein adam lachaveiro). However, there are commandments bein adam laMakom - between man and G-d - whose fulfillment are also essential for the establishment of a just society, and a guarantee for Israel's continued existence in the land. The bringing of the first-fruits is one such commandment.
Having taken possession of the land, having prepared the pastures and orchards, having planted, cultivated and raised sweet, succulent fruits, it is incumbent upon the Israelite farmer to set apart the very first fruits of his bounty by tying a brightly colored ribbon around their branches. Having done so, he gathers all his first-fruits in a willow basket, and, (beginning with the Shavuot festival in early summer), brings them to the Holy Temple. There he will hand over his first-fruits to the officiating kohen, (priest), who will place the basket before the stone altar. The supplicant will then recite a liturgy, whose words appear in Torah, (Deut. 26:5-10) These prescribed words describe Israel's historical trek throughout the generations, beginning with the patriarch Yaakov, and concluding with the entering of the land of Israel. The closing of a circle!
How appropriate that the Israelite farmer will express his praise and gratitude to the G-d who has guided his people to the land He promised his forefathers! How fitting that the very first fruit, the consummation and confirmation of the fulfillment of G-d's word to His people, should not be gobbled up by the farmer who has invested so much of his own energy and resources into its fruition, but brought before the L-rd, in "the place which the L-rd, your G-d, will choose to have His Name dwell there," (ibid 26:2) the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This act of self-abnegation, of submission and humility before G-d, whose will has made all this possible, and without whom all our efforts and endeavors are ultimately for naught, is a cornerstone in building the spiritual character, not only of the individual, but of Torah civilization in the land of Israel, in its entirety.
The short recitation referred to above begins with the patriarch Yaakov, but it could have begun much earlier. Not only did Avraham bind his son Yitzchak on this spot where the Holy Temple stands, it was also the place where Noach made his offering to G-d after emerging from the ark. And prior to this the very same location was where Adam, the first man made his offering to G-d, after being expelled from the Garden of Eden. And, of course, it was from the dirt of this very location that G-d first fashioned man and breathed into him His eternal spark of life.
It would be a great oversight and a colossal omission were we to not understand this solemn yet sublimely joyful ceremony in light of the very first words of the book of Genesis: "In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth..." (Genesis 1:1) The great commentator Rashi states that the Torah begins with these words in order to provide irrefutable proof to all the nations that it was G-d who created the earth, (ha-aretz, in Hebrew, also, "the land"), and that it is therefore His to bequeath to His people Israel, as He sees fit.
The first act of creation, the first expression of G-d's desire to bring His people into the land and to dwell amongst them; the bringing of the first-fruits, the first thing the children of Israel are instructed to do upon entering the land of Israel. The first and the finest of all we do, and all we are, belong to G-d. By acknowledging that we become the people He intended.
Tune in to the week's Temple Talk as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven study the disease of forgetfulness and the sorry state of affairs in which masses of humanity veritably sleepwalk their lives away, as well as this week's Torah reading of Ki Tavo and the joyful experience of bringing the first fruits of the Land of Israel to the Holy Temple! Our hosts declare: Somnambulism stops here! Time to wake up! A lesson for our month of Elul and preparation for the Days of Awe.
This week features the new Light to the Nations teaching by Rabbi Chaim Richman, entitled, "The Repentance of Love, Part I: On Rosh HaShana we stand before G-d in awe, and our repentance is inspired by fear before the King and Judge. But the repentance of the month of Elul comes from a place of love, a desire to please G-d." Click here to view.
The war against complacency: How do we keep our relationship with G-d vibrant? How do we maintain the edge He requires? The secret is in acknowledging today as being the most important day, the only day. Click here to view Rabbi Richman's short teaching on parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8).
Blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem,
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