Parashat Ki Tavo: Past, present and future

In Ki Tavo the Israelites are commanded to bring their first fruits as an offering: “When you come into the land that the Eternal your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Eternal your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Eternal your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest that shall be in those days and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Eternal your God that I have come into the land that the Eternal swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Eternal your God.”

In this brief passage we see the past, present and future, as the text attempts, in its day, to secure the future by means of its being embedded in the past. It envisions a future in which the Israelites will have inherited the land promised to them by God.

In a commentary on this portion, Nehama Leibowitz reminds us of the passage in the Pesach Haggadah that says that in every generation every Jew is obligated to see him or herself as if he or she personally had gone out of Egypt. Similarly, this passage concerning first fruits seeks to secure the future through attachment to a narrative about a shared past. It would not be enough for the Israelites of the future to complacently consider the land merely an inheritance from long dead ancestors. They would have to behave as, and therefore come to believe themselves to be, one with the very generation that had been so dramatically redeemed. Thus, the bringing of first fruits was not only a ritual of recollection but also of re-enactment.

A matter of days separates us from the Days of Awe. The month of Elul offers each and every one of us the possibility to review our past, to see where we are, and to create a vision for the future. By doing so, we make sure that our decisions and acts are based on solid ground, and strong enough to carry us into the next year.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Cantor Gershon Silins, Ki Tavo)

 

Torah Reading Shabbat Ki Tavo
Devarim 26:1-29:8
Reading Dtn 26:1-27:10
Plaut p.1350; Hertz p.859
Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22
(Plaut 1368; Hertz p.874)

In our Torah portion:
* The Israelites are instructed to express their gratitude to God for their bountiful harvests and freedom from slavery by tithing ten percent of their crops for the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow.
* The people are told to display on large stones God’s commandments for all to see.
* The Levites are to proclaim curses upon those who violate God’s commandments.
* The Israelites are told that if they obey God’s mitzvot faithfully, they will receive every blessing imaginable. They are also told that if do not fulfill their brit with God, many curses will descend upon them.
* Moses reminds the Israelites of the miracles they witnessed in the wilderness and commands them to observe the terms of the covenant so that they may succeed in all that they undertake.

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