Parashat Ki Tavo
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The Land of Israel has been conquered and divided, and Jewish farmers have settled into the yearly cycle of growth and harvest. Now they are given a special commandment, one applying only in the Land: they must take their first fruits to the Temple to express their gratitude to God.
The first verses of this week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, describe the ritual of bikkurim, first fruits (Deut. 26:2): "…you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your Land that your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that your God, will choose…" As we will explore below, the farmers were not only thanking God for an abundant harvest, but also affirming the link between God, themselves, the Land of Israel, and the collective history of the Jewish nation.
Increased Awareness of God
The Jewish farmers, upon bringing their bikkurim, recited a passage relating their ancestors' journey to and from Egypt (Deut. 26:5). The Land of Israel is the culmination of this journey. The recitation of this passage, in addition to acknowledging Jewish historical continuity, can be understood to reflect the spiritual journey from self-reliance to reliance on God.
In the Land of Israel, the most basic sense of faith stems from an agricultural dependence on God. The Jewish farmer, whose livelihood is entirely dependent on God's blessing, must live in a perpetual state of faith and appreciation. This faith is even indicated in the kind of fruit farmers brought as bikkurim; they only offered the seven species for which the Land is praised--wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive, and dates. These species are native to Israel and are especially dependent on the blessing of rainwater for their growth.
Unity through Agriculture
The agricultural enterprise does more than just sharpen one's awareness of God. According to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, agriculture also has the power to unify the Jewish nation. Rabbi Kook proposes that the ideal Jewish society is one based on an agricultural rather than a mercantile economy.
Commenting on the bikkurim ceremony described by the Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:2), he writes that "the first fruits symbolize the special love the nation (of Israel) has for agriculture… As opposed to the nations of the world where cohesion is fostered by trade fairs, here (in an agricultural ritual) it is built through the common denominator of pure worship of God."