Parashat Ki Tavo – Erev Shabbat 16 September 2022 (5782)
Week of 11-17 September 2022
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22
Theme: Bringing the First Fruits
his week’s parashah, named Ki Tavo “when you enter” commences as the Israelites are poised to enter the promised land. Deuteronomy 26: 1-15, the focus of this commentary, can easily be split into four sections. (1) In verses 1-4 Moses instructs harvesting some of the very first fruit (bikkurim), placing it in a basket (tene’), taking it to the place of presentation to give to the priest, who places it before the altar of the LORD. (2) Verses 5-10 comprise one of only two declarations found in the Torah which specify the precise wording which must be recited in a layman’s address to G_d. (The other is Deut 21:7-9). The declaration switches focus from the bounty of nature to Israel’s history and Jewish identity. We note that verses 5-8 are deployed in the Passover Haggadah. (3) Verse 11 gives a sense of communal celebration. (4) Verses 12-15 outline the tithe declaration pledge, every third year, to support the stranger, fatherless and widow and to pray for G_d’s continued blessing on the people and the land.
The reader, who is alert to the significance of repetition, will note “the LORD Your G_d” is mentioned 11 times in 15 verses – a bold affirmation that G_d is the supreme power before all phenomena. In verses 1-3, there are 3 references to “the land which the LORD Your G_d is giving you”. G_d’s promise to the Patriarchs has been fulfilled!
The contrasts in the declaration (vv. 5-10) are striking. Meager numbers of ancestors have become a great and powerful nation. Oppressed slaves have obtained their freedom. A homeless people wandering in the desert are being brought to a land flowing with milk and honey. The source of the Israelites’ gratitude is not the fertility of the land, but the land itself. Verses 8-9 are both a thanksgiving prayer and a profession of faith and lead to verse 10 which beautifully expresses the responsibility to acknowledge a gift, by reciprocating and giving the most precious gift!
While the narrative for this passage is in the future, the Mishnah (Bikkurim 3) gives us a detailed account of the first fruit offering ceremony. In brief, the farmer marks fruits with a reed rope and declares: “Let these be bikkurim” and affirms this designation at the time of harvest. Those who lived near Jerusalem would bring fresh figs and grapes; those from far away would bring dried figs and raisins. Before them went an ox, whose horns were overlaid with gold and with a wreath of olive leaves on its head. A flute was played until they reached the Temple Mount where officials would meet them. Even King Agrippa would take his basket on his shoulder and enter in as far as the Temple Court. Groups went forward in order of the honor due them. Birds tied to baskets were given to the priests for burnt offerings. Baskets were large and deep in the shape of a jar or cone and were hand-woven of rush, willow or palm leaf. This colorful ceremony concluded with the presentation to the priest and the recitation of the declaration.
Reflection and Discussion: 1. Consider yourself as G_d’s first fruits and the challenge to offer yourself and all you do to G_d. 2. Reflect on the image of basket as a symbol of the moment, with future, past and present woven together and relate this to your faith journey.
Bibliography: Lieber, D.L., Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary, Jewish Publication Society (New York: 1999); Berlin and Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press (USA; 2014); Smith, William, Dr. “Entry for basket”, Smith’s Bible Dictionary (1901); Kulp, Joshua, Dr. Mishnah Bikkurim 3, www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Bikkurim
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Mary Ann Payne, Australia, Bat Kol Alumna ‘07, ‘11, ‘15