When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name. — Deuteronomy 26:1–2
The Torah portion for this week is Ki Tavo, which means “when you have entered,” from Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 60:1–22.
“G times five,” my teacher would say. “That’s the reason why the world was created.” Then he would explain the “five G’s” as follows: “The Greatest Good that God can Give is God Himself.” In other words, God created the world as an act of kindness. He wanted to give something wonderful to us, and the greatest pleasure that any human being can experience is the pleasure of having a relationship with God.
However, the Jewish sages’ commentary on the opening verses of this week’s reading suggests another purpose for creation. The reading begins with the commandment to bring the firstfruits of the harvest to God as an offering. During Temple times, farmers would mark the fruits that emerged first with a red string. Then, once ripened, they would bring the fruit to Jerusalem with great pomp and grandeur as an offering to God. For this grand event, say the sages, the world was created.
How are we to understand this statement given the other reasons suggested for the creation of the world? How are we to appreciate this commandment and its importance now that we can no longer fulfill it today?
God doesn’t eat fruit and He certainly doesn’t need any of ours. The bringing of the firstfruits was a spiritual practice that was deeply symbolic. It characterized a person’s entire relationship with his or her Maker.
A farmer would plow a field and plant some seeds. Over time, he would cultivate the plants and care for the field. Finally, after much labor and patience, produce would emerge. After working so hard on his field, the farmer would be elated by the first signs of success. He did it! All that hard work paid off. He created fruit from the earth.
However, the danger in the celebrating one’s achievement in producing the firstfruits is forgetting that there is only one true Creator. As Scripture warned, we might say: “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (Deuteronomy 8:17). Yet, while we certainly play a role, it is God alone who creates and provides everything.
God gave us the commandment of the firstfruits so that we will recognize Him and have a relationship with Him – the very purpose of creation. The true test of our relationship is not when we are in need; rather, it is when we are most successful. It is in our greatest moments and achievements that we must recognize our dependence on God.
Today, we can practice this profound directive by recognizing God in all we do. We can dedicate a percentage of our earnings to charity and use our talents for God’s purposes — not because He needs our help, but because we need Him in our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President