"You will take of the first of every fruit..."
Listen, see, hear, behold! In the book of Deuteronomy we find Moses repeatedly exhorting his people to utilize their ears and their eyes in order to better absorb and understand the words of G-d's message, as they prepare for entering and inheriting the land of Israel. To be able to listen and to observe are prerequisite qualities of a good student. And above all else, G-d's requirement of the children of Israel in the desert was for them to be good students, and to learn the words and ways of Torah. Toward that end, in order to facilitate an ideal learning environment for the Israelites, G-d even saw to it that their clothes would remain intact throughout the forty years, and that they would receive their daily measure of physical nourishment via the manna, two facts that Moses alludes to at the close of this week's Torah reading of Ki Tavo, (see Deuteronomy 29:4).
But soon the children of Israel will enter the land and everything will be different. Their needs will no longer be provided for directly by G-d. On the contrary, they are expected to cultivate the land and raise its crops for sustenance. They will weave their own clothing, make their own shoes, and build their own dwellings. How will they do all these things and still maintain the intimate relationship that they shared with G-d in the desert?
This is the challenge of living in the land of Israel, a land in which every individual must forge a bond between heaven and earth with all their actions, including their daily endeavor to eke out a living and provide for themselves and their loved ones. The secret of how this is accomplished can be seen in these words:
"And it shall be, when you come into the land which HaShem your G-d has given you for an inheritance, and possess it, and dwell in it; that you will take of the first of every fruit of the ground, which you bring in from your land that HaShem your G-d has given you; and you will put it in a basket and go to the place which HaShem your G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there. And you will come to the priest that shall be in those days, and say to him: 'I profess this day to HaShem your G-d, that I have come into the land which HaShem swore unto our fathers to give us.'" (Deuteronomy 26:1-3)
In short, a man is required to gather the first and best of the fruits of his labors, and bring them to "to the place which HaShem your G-d shall choose," - the Holy Temple. There, upon presenting his bounty to the priest, he recites the words of praise and recitation of history prescribed in Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:5-10)
As we know, this place, the Holy Temple, is the one place on earth where Torah requires us to be seen, ("Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the L-rd G-d" - Exodus 23:17).
In addition, the commandment of bringing the first fruits requires us to make ourselves heard in this place.
And the very objects over which our words are uttered are no more and no less than the result of our inheriting, possessing and working the land of Israel.
In other words, those three aspects which most exemplified the Israelite existence in the desert - listening, seeing and having their most basic needs provided for directly from heaven - are, now that they have entered and possessed the land, transformed from passive to active qualities: Instead of seeing and looking, each individual must make himself seen - three times a year in the Holy Temple. Instead of listening and hearing, each individual must make himself heard, by uttering the first-fruits prayer - in the Holy Temple. And instead of receiving his nourishment from the heavenly manna, each individual must work the land, and bring the first of his fruits - to the Holy Temple. In this manner, the transformation from the passive childlike desert experience of being cared for, to the land of Israel reality of true independence and self-reliance, is effected without diminishing, and in fact, strengthening the intimate connection between the children of Israel and the G-d of Israel.
This place which G-d chose, this Holy Temple, is the one place where G-d's promise of independence to the former slaves and desert wanderers could ultimately be brought to fulfillment. The verses in this week's Torah reading make this clear concerning the generation that entered the land 3,500 years ago. And so too, the Holy Temple's role for our current generation, not merely as a symbol, but as a facilitator of the nation of Israel's struggle for independence and service to G-d, cannot be overestimated.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the bringing of the first fruits, the remarkable willow basket - the te-ne - which held the first fruits, the brilliant intensity of the land of Israel, and the making of the upcoming Hakhel ceremony.
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