A time-tested formula for generating joy in the darkest of times!
Table for Five: Ki Tavo
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household – you, the Levite, and the stranger in your midst.-Deut 26:11
Rabbi Peretz Rodman, Head of Israel’s Masorti/Conservative bet din
“Rejoice” is the right word for the biblical verb *ve-samakhta*—not, as in modern Hebrew, “be happy,” and not as the JPS translation reads: “and you shall enjoy….” Moses is addressing the future Israelite farmer in Canaan. He has just instructed him to bring an offering of *bikkurim*, “first fruits,” from what the land produces and to recite a thanksgiving formula recalling the Exodus from subjugation in Egypt to freedom in the “land flowing with milk and honey.” What should follow that ceremony? Happiness cannot be legislated. Enjoyment is subjective. Rejoicing, though, is an action. It can be mandated. “Celebrate,” Moses is telling the people. “Throw a party.”
And whom should the farmer invite? Not just “you and your household” but also “the Levite,” whose landholdings are minor and who is supported mostly by the gift of his neighbors’ tithes, and “the stranger in your midst,” the resident alien who labors on other people’s land or at non-agricultural tasks. He too is to take part in the celebration of God’s gift of bounty, even though he is not among the owners of the land.
Classical rabbinic sources understand the verse to be obligating the Levite and the resident alien too to offer *bikkurim*. Contemporary readers, however, understand the verse’s final phrase as a moral exhortation: You whose forebears were exploited strangers in Egypt are to include foreigners in your own harvest celebrations. The land may be entrusted to you, but its yield is for all to enjoy.
Rivkah Slonim, Associate Director, Chabad of Binghamton
Parashat Tavo completes Moshe’s recapitulation of all the commandments, beginning with those that become relevant upon entrance into the Holy Land. Chassidus illuminates why the mitzvah of bikurim, which figures prominently in this Parasha, is the appropriate segue into Moshe’s review of the Covenant between b’nai Yisroel and God which follows immediately after.
Bikurim, the commandment to bring of the first fruits to the Temple, is more than yet another way that Judaism inculcates gratitude. It serves as a powerful metaphor for our relationship with the Creator. The prophet Hosea compared the Jewish people to God’s “first fruit.” In carefully selecting of the first of the season’s produce, lovingly arranging it in an ornate basket, and bringing it to the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jew was reminded of his truth. Each one of us, by virtue of the soul nestled within us, is a “first fruit.” As such, no matter how disconnected we might feel from our traditions, we nevertheless belong in “the Temple,” in close proximity with God. Only when we understand this, can we truly “rejoice with all of the good that God has granted…” and fully embrace the covenant that binds us with our Creator.
Ilan Reiner, Architect & Author of “Israel History Maps”
You dig, plant, soil, water, trim and nourish the new tree for many months. Until one day there are new fruits! When the fruit is ripe, saliva fills your mouth as you imagine eating it. Stop! The Torah tells you to take it to the Beit Ha’Mikdash with gratitude to God.
This verse is the conclusion of a passage that the farmer recites when standing before the priests, holding the first harvest. It seems to sum up the history of the Jewish people. However, it’s actually about the future!
Farmers don’t say that their forefathers came to the land and worked the land. Rather, they say that they themselves have come to the Promised Land of Israel! Every individual identifies with the entire nation, forever. Also on Passover we consider ourselves as if we left Egypt. Likewise, when bringing the Bikurim – first fruits/harvest – we see ourselves as if we are those who first came to settle the land.
The Torah is protecting us from a great danger. As generations pass by, we focus on ourselves in our comfort zone, forget the struggles of past generations, and become selfish. By reciting the passage of Bikurim, we declare that we are part of the Jewish people. Thus relating to our past, our faith, our pains and happiness, and how we care for everyone around us. This is what sets us on a future path to keep rejoicing in our land of Israel with our families, friends, and strangers all together.
Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, N’vay Shalom & Faculty AJRCA
We must remember that the people standing at the entrance to the land are not those who left Egypt and witnessed Sinai. It is the next generation and their children, who now have an opportunity to enter the land. Moses reminds them of the Covenant and all that it contains – laws, behavior, rituals that they are expected to continue and the horrific events that will befall them if they don’t.
This verse in particular highlights exactly what their parents refused to do; to express joy and gratitude for the gifts from G-d. Their incessant complaints, lies, and cowardice brought disaster upon them. Now the new generation will have an opportunity to live out the dream and the promise ready to receive and to give with great joy. As Ibn Ezra states they must celebrate their good fortune and include the Levites and the strangers who have adopted their G-d as their own. Once settled and comfortable it is easy to forget the source of their blessings so they’re reminded, when they bring an offering of first fruits, that they must be willing to express their joy, sing and dance, celebrating the moment.
As we read this just before Rosh Hashanah, and especially in such dreadful times, we acknowledge that we too have much to be thankful for and must bring our offerings to HaShem from a place of joy. Our prayers replace the offerings, the first fruits of our heart, and we must sing them with delight and profound gratitude.
Rabbi Scott N. Bolton, Congregation Or Zarua, NY, NY
The Torah helps us live our lives in every way – even with party planning! Want to make a simha? Make sure to include the Levite and the stranger. Expand the guest list over spending on gourmet goodie bags and giveaways. Think expansively about how to include community. Moreover, this verse is instructing us to be an affiliated member of a community. A place for holy celebration is important just as a venue for a simha is. And, to create a holy experience for expressing gratitude we need a bigger group. That is why getting back to synagogue is so important for us now. Over the last year plus we have forgotten about the power and inspiration that comes with being together with people in a Jewish sacred space. Today’s singing Levites are the members of a prayer community who elicit each other’s spirits and sing out songs to the Lord. Today’s strangers are human beings who we may or may not know by name but whose presence creates an image of God and who amplify the glory and mystery of being human. In connecting to community synagogues among levitical souls and holy strangers we align ourselves with experiences and forums that allow our bodies to experience joy and delight. It is easy to make a backyard minyan or turn on a screen to distance ourselves from others. To celebrate the good God granted us we need our shuls and to welcome religious leaders, minyan-makers and fellow travelers into our midst.
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