Parashat Ki Tavo – Erev Shabbat 01 September 2023 (5783)
Week of 27 August to 02 September 2023
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22
Theme: Offering the first fruits
The ritual of bikkurim, first fruits (Deut 26:2) is the first commandment to be obeyed as soon as “you enter” (ki tavo in Hebrew) the Promised Land. This Torah portion tells us that of the other commandments to mark Israel’s arrival in the land, to include tithes declaration, the writing of the Torah in stones, the building of the altar, and proclaiming blessings and curses.
The farmer is to bring the first fruits to the Temple each year and after the offering has been accepted by the priest and placed on the altar, he is to recite the following declaration: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” (26:5-10)
The words that the farmer utters are called “The First-Fruits-Recitation” in the Mishnah which requires it to be said in Hebrew. Etz Hayim (2011) notes that it is a rare instance for the Torah to prescribe the exact words of a prayer rather than leave it to the worshipper to pray in his own words.
The farmer not only thanks God for an abundant harvest, but he is led to recognize both the fertility of the land and God’s grace to the Israelites from the beginning. The prayer relates his ancestors’ journey to and from Egypt, their freedom from slavery and the gift of the land.
The shift is from God’s role in nature to God’s role in history. It summarizes the historical basis of the Jewish identity. Etz Hayim says the declaration spoken by the farmer “evokes the very heart of monotheism.” It affirms “God is the power behind all phenomena, historical as well as natural.” God is the source of all blessings, past, present and yet to come.
After the destruction of the Temple, bikkurim could not be offered. But according to an article in Jewish Encyclopedia, the rabbis regard acts of philanthropy as a proper substitute. Another report says that in modern lsrael, the kibbutzim hold bikkurim celebrations on Shavuot, evoking the ancient Temple ritual. Children join a procession which showcased agricultural products; and donations are made to the Jewish National Fund for land reclamation.
For many Christian believers, the instruction for bringing crops to the temple priest has taken on an expanded meaning. First fruits would mean any income, wealth or blessings that have been received and these are offered during the Offertory at the Mass/Service, as tithes or donations to charities, among others.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1 What do you consider to be your “first fruit” offering to God? 2. What do you consider to be a minimum “first fruit” offering?
Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/first-fruits;https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6139-first-fruits
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Bat kol Alumna July 2014 and July 2023