I love the expression, “life is a journey.” This week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, also speaks of a journey. The parsha begins, “It will be that when you come into the land… .” The Torah continues to describe the special mitzvah of bringing the first fruits to the Beit Hamikdash (the holy Temple) in Jerusalem. The farmer would bring his fruit to the Kohen, whose job was to serve in the Temple. The Kohen would take the basket of fruits and the farmer would make an interesting declaration, briefly describing Laban’s mistreatment of our forefather Jacob, continuing with the suffering of slavery in Egypt and concluding that G-d rescued us and brought us to our homeland, a land of milk and honey. The farmer continues, “And now behold! I have brought the first fruit of the ground that You have given me, G-d”.

What is the purpose of this speech? What is the connection between the oppression of Jacob, the enslavement in Egypt, the entry into the land of Israel and this moment of bringing the first fruits to the Temple? Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that we can’t know who we are or where we are going unless we understand and appreciate where we have been. A journey is not just of the present, but of the past and future as well. 

My friend posted that her son’s surgery had been postponed again because of an infection. She was stressed and distressed. Her post said, “gam ze ya’avor (this too shall pass), I may go insane in the process, but this too shall pass.” When I read that I smiled. Her attitude will keep her sane. It will get her through the tough times. She knows that there is something before this difficult moment and something better to follow.

It makes sense that a mature person will coax herself through the tough times with a reminder that this moment won’t last forever. But what about when things are good? The farmer works incredibly hard, plowing, planting, watering, waiting and, finally, harvesting. It is easy for him to look at his success and be confident that it all came from his own hands. Therefore, he is obligated to bring his first fruits, the very ones to which he is probably most attached, to the Temple and, through that process, remind himself that ultimately, everything comes from G-d.

The Torah clearly connects this mitzvah of bikkurim (bringing first fruits) to coming into the land of Israel, the land that G-d gave us when He redeemed us from a slavery that was inescapable by human power alone. 

I get many e-mails about Israel. There seems to be two types. One type touts the amazing accomplishments of our country, which is still in its infancy. Israel is the start-up nation, top of the developing world, strongest economy, best educated, most inventive, a democracy that gives rights to all its citizens regardless of race, religion, color or sexual orientation. The other type shows images of mobs chanting, professors spouting, students threatening, unions boycotting.  They are dark, violent, venomous, having long passed the line of civil debate. Sadly, some of the loudest, most virulent voices are Jewish.

How quickly we forget the past, a past not only of 3,500 years ago, but of 100 or 60 or 30 or five years ago; a past of last year, last month, last week, yesterday. Losing touch with our past, we cannot appreciate our present and we become careless about choices that will impact the future. 

We cannot afford to be complacent about our land, or to think the successes of Israel come from our hands alone. The farmer will invest immense effort to reach the moment when he can bring his first fruits, yet the declaration he makes reminds him of the journey of the Jewish people.

Like the farmer, we too can invest in the land of Israel, always with the prayer that G-d bless our efforts. Those who are fortunate to live there show commitment through their everyday existence. Those of us in the Diaspora must find other ways to ensure the safety and security of our homeland. We begin by simple recognition, the gratitude that comes when we don’t take the miracle of Israel for granted. 

It is September 2023, Elul 5783. We have come into the land, but have forgotten the message of the first fruits. This is the land that G-d has given us. He took us out of Germany, Poland, Hungary and Russia; Syria, Morocco, Iran and Argentina; England, France, South Africa and even Canada and the United States of America. That is our past, this is our present and what will be our future? Like the first fruits the farmer holds, the answer is in our hands.

Shabbat Shalom.

Lauren Shaps