Rabbi O’s Weekly: Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)First Fruits and Jewish Roots

Imagine a society whose entire economy revolved around agriculture; what would you do when, after months of hard work, you saw a tiny bud sprouting from your fig tree? It’s not enough just to be happy, we Jews are enjoined to connect with other farmers who have first fruits and travel with them to Jerusalem. An ox with horns coated in gold would lead the procession, a crown of olive branches on its head, representing the seven species from which the first fruits were taken. The procession had the musical accompaniment of a flute until it approached Jerusalem. They would travel for only two-thirds of the day, allowing others along the way to notice them and join the procession. When they were close to Jerusalem, emissaries were sent to notify the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and they adorned their first fruits and beautified them. Jerusalem’s leaders as well as priests and Temple treasurers, would leave the Holy City to greet them. When they reached Jerusalem, the city’s artisans would greet them saying, “our brothers, the inhabitants of so-and-so, you have come in peace.”They proceeded through Jerusalem, the sound of a flute accompanying them, until they reached the Temple Mount. There, even the most important people, including the King of Israel, placed baskets on their shoulders and proceeded to the Temple Courtyard while singing. At that point, the Levite choir would sing and the procession continued, culminating with the recitation of a phrase we say until today at the Passover Seder (“An Aramean sought to destroy my forefather . . .”)On certain years, a tithe (ma’aser) consisting of ten percent of the total produce was brought but there was no grand procession, just a short declaration recited by the farmer when he reached Jerusalem and gave it to the Levi. Why is there no ceremony or greeting committee, no flutes, or crowd cheering for people who contribute ten percent of their total produce, a potentially huge amount of money, whereas those same people, when bringing a tiny first fruit, are accorded a celebrity status?There’s a fundamental difference between the first fruits (bikurim) and tithing on alternate years. Bikurim (first fruits) represent faith in the future whereas the tithe indicates gratitude for the past. When I bring my first fruits it is special because I have nothing. For months I have been working hard in field; every day I go out looking for something-anything, even a bud-and all the sudden, after months of anticipation, something finally sprouts. What do I do? I pluck it and give it away (i.e. bring it to the Temple). At that point, I have nothing (only one small fruit has budded) but hope and trust in G-d for the future. Concerning tithing, I have an entire silo (or silos) packed with produce. Granted, I give away 10% of the crop, but I still have 90%. It goes without saying that I want to express my gratitude to the Almighty for granting me a bumper crop, but I still have a silo or silos packed with produce. It’s hard to be thinking about anything other than a great upcoming year-vacations, purchases, an easy existence-and therefore it is fitting to be thankful for what I have but when you have everything, it a challenge to be really believe you need G-d. However, when a person has only one small fruit, all he has is trust in G-d. He’s done everything he can to plow, sow, and do other labors; the rest is dependent on G-d. Will it rain? Will insects devour the crop? Will there be enough sun? These matters are not in human hands. The message of bikkurim (first fruits)is trust and looking toward the future whereas tithing’s message is to be grateful for the past.We now have an answer to the question of why there’s so much fanfare for the tiny gift of the first fruits but there’s none when giving away buckets of tithed food. When I give away ten percent, it’s not my last percent; I give 10% and keep 90%; what’s left after the gift is far more significant than the gift itself. This seems to be a small price to pay for all the bounty bestowed, but when I offer my first fruit, I have nothing else; there are no crops in the field. What do I do? I trust in the future and that the same way that G-d has taken care of me until now, He will do so in the future.Being as both first fruits and tithing are mitzvot, it behooves us to take their lessons into our lives. If things are going well with family, career, and health, make sure to express gratitude, even though it’s hard to remember to do so while you’re basking in in that success. When you begin a new job, take on a life change or commitment, do everything you can to ensure your success but ultimately realize that there are many factors beyond your control but nothing is beyond G-d.The year is almost over. Let’s look back with gratitude for the things we were able to achieve, as well as being cognizant of the gifts of physical and mental health that allowed us to undertake and complete what we did. But we also must look toward the future year and trust that when we do everything necessary to tackle our personal goals, if we pray and trust in G-d, we will not be disappointed. Good Shabbos  
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center