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Kee Tavo 5777-2017

“The Choice Parts to G-d”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Parashat Kee Tavo is best known for the second תּוֹכֵחָה , Tochacha, G-d’s second reproof of the People of Israel. The first is found in parashat Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:8-26:44.

Aside from the Tochacha, this week’s parasha, Kee Tavo, also concludes the general clarification of the numerous mitzvot that are found in the Book of Deuteronomy. As the parasha opens, Moses emphasizes those mitzvot that specifically relate to the land of Israel, focusing on the fruits that the land brings forth. It also records the texts of the prayers recited by the farmers when the first ripened crops are brought to the Temple and which the farmers present to the Kohanim-the Priests, in Jerusalem. This ceremony serves to underscore the fundamental principle of Judaism, which recognizes every mortal accomplishment as a gift from G-d.

Parashat Kee Tavo opens with the verse in Deuteronomy 26:1, וְהָיָה כִּי תָבוֹא אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר השׁם אֱ־לֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה, וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בָּהּ , and it will come to pass when you enter the land that the L-rd your G-d gives you as an inheritance and you possess it and dwell in it. The Torah continues (Deuteronomy 26:2), you shall take the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land that the L-rd your G-d gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the L-rd your G-d will choose to make His Name rest there.

It is in Jerusalem that the farmers come to the Priests who will be there in those days to proclaim that their every accomplishment is a gift from G-d, and that the beautiful fruits are a testimony to that fact.

Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus in Tiferet Shimshon al HaTorah, Deuteronomy, explains why the Torah’s commandment to bring the first fruits to the Temple is relevant to contemporary times. In Temple times, every Jewish farmer brought the first fruits that grew in the gardens and fields, and transported them to Jerusalem in beautifully decorated baskets in a great public ceremony accompanied by music.

Although we are no longer able to practice this commandment, and the first fruits are no longer brought to the Temple, the basic premise of the ceremony is still relevant and applicable today.

In general, the first fruits are always the most beloved by the farmer. It was for these fruits that the farmer longed for an entire year, labored in the fields during the harsh winters and the hot summers, looked with hope for the spring to come to behold the rewards of his efforts. Obviously, when the farmer finally goes to the field and sees the beautiful, first-ripened fruits, the farmer is eager to bring them home as quickly as possible to share them with his family. The Torah, however, says that the first and most beloved fruits are the portion of G-d.

Like the farmer, we too must remember that the source of all the blessings is the Al-mighty Who has given us these fruits with abundant grace and love.  As we look upon the colorful and beautiful basket of fruits, or their modern equivalents, in our homes, every fruit so unique and tasteful, we must recognize the abundant love that G-d showers upon us. It is He, Who provides food for the entire world with grace, loving-kindness and mercy.

The sparkle emitted from the basket of the first fruits is very much like a kiss from G-d, that is to be reciprocated to G-d Al-mighty with abundant love. The first fruits that are brought to the priest at the holy Temple, are therefore sanctified to G-d.

Rabbi Pincus points out that the idea of gratitude that’s expressed in the ceremony of the firstborn fruits, applies to the entire Torah, and to all of life.

Maimonides in the Laws of Forbidden Offerings 7:11, writes:

The same principle applies to everything that is done for the sake of the good G-d; namely, that it be of the finest and the best. If one builds a house of prayer, it should be finer than his private dwelling. If he feeds the hungry, he should give him of the best and sweetest of his table. If he clothes the naked, he should give him of the finest of his garments. Hence, if he consecrated something to G-d, he ought to give the best of his possessions. Thus, scripture says: “All the fat is the L-rd’s,” Leviticus 3:16.

Rabbi Pincus provides a stark example of this principle from contemporary times. A person comes to the door to collect for Hachnassat Kallah-funds for a poor bride. In most instances, people start rummaging through their closets for some old garment to get rid of that they never wore, that they received long ago from an aunt. While they mistakenly think that they profit from the mitzvah, that is wrong. After all, Maimonides says, “Give the best garment.”

Rabbi Pincus concludes by emphasizing, that everything that is done for the sake of Heaven and for the good of G-d, needs to be done in the most beautiful and elegant manner.

May you be blessed.