"I declare this day... "
The Torah reading of Ki Tavo opens with instructions being given by Moshe rabennu, (Moses our master), to the children of Israel, concerning the very first commandments to be carried out upon entering the land of Israel. These include the bringing of the first fruits, the tithing of the produce and the setting up of twelve stones atop Mount Eval, overlooking the city of Shechem. The second half of the Torah reading, however, is dominated by a delineation of blessings for serving G-d, and curses which will befall the people of Israel if they fail to pursue G-d's commandments "with happiness and with gladness of heart." (ibid 28:47)<
The litany of kelalot, admonitions, is long, fearsome, and foreboding. It most chillingly reads like a chronicle of tragedies that have indeed befallen the nation of Israel over the millennia. But perhaps more than anything else, it seems to invoke, at least in our weaker moments, an oppressive sense of helplessness, of inevitability. Once the nation goes astray there exists, one may glean, an irreversible slippery slide down the long slope of reproof followed by reproof followed by reproof. Can Israel reverse course before hitting bottom? Are we looking at the stereotypical "angry Deity of the Old Testament," wreaking havoc upon man? Are we really held captive by a cosmic fate beyond our control?
Of course not. G-d's admonitions to Israel are those of a loving father, whose only concern is the welfare of his children. In any case, such a notion of helplessness is antithetical to very thing Torah comes to teach us, that is, personal responsibility. And the clearest proof of this is embodied in the ceremony of the first fruits described in Ki Tavo's opening verses, in which we are told, in no uncertain terms, that man holds his own fate in the palms of his own hands. The pilgrim is instructed to bring to the altar of the Holy Temple the first fruits of his labor in the field, his finest efforts, his own personal god-like piece of creation. And this most wondrous reflection of himself he is commanded to relinquish, placing in in a basket and "laying it before the altar of HaShem, your G-d." (ibid 26:4) By doing so the pilgrim acknowledges that G-d is the sole Creator and Master of of all, even that which this pilgrim himself has toiled to bring forth from the earth. Our pilgrim then recalls the history of the Israelite nation, beginning with their pursuit and desert wanderings and concluding with their entering the land of Israel, "a land flowing with milk and honey." (ibid 26:9)
The pilgrim then states: "And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, HaShem, have given to me." (ibid 26:10) By doing so he affirms and confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt his own personal centrality in G-d's creation and in the Divine purpose which informs G-d's creation. Far from being a faceless extra, out of sync, and lost in a vast and unconcerned universe which careens heartlessly through time, our pilgrim is literally the lynchpin which binds G-d to man, heaven to earth. And all it took was a little humility.
Is this any less than a replay and a correction of the original first fruits episode which unfolded at the dawn of man? We know that the Holy Temple stands literally in the very location of the Garden of Eden, and the altar in the place of the tree of life. And wasn't it Adam and Chava's (Eve's) misappropriation of the first fruit of the tree of knowledge that first brought death and sorrow into G-d's world?
No, the horror upon horror of the curses laid out in Ki Tavo's later verses do not come in order to cause us to lose heart, but to take heart. How simply we can take back our world if only we confront G-d directly, on His terms, and upon His turf, as it were, the Holy Temple, and present to Him our finest selves, with humility. It is this humility which lifts our souls and fills our hearts with gladness - the antidote, the cure, and the end to every curse and cause of pain:
"Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that HaShem, your G-d, has granted you and your household you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you." (ibid 26:11)
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the intricate beauty of the commandment to bring first fruits to the Holy Temple, in joy and thankfulness, and what this means for every single human being today. This week's Torah portion of Ki Tavo is actually a concise guide to the themes of Elul – an Elul survival kit – that contains everything we need to know to break away from the rote and humdrum of our everyday existence and get back to where we belong; fully focused on "G-d consciousness."