Parshat Ki Tavo
Rabbi Meir Sendor
Our daughter-in-law sent along a note she received this week from our granddaughter’s math teacher:
R. was so beautiful in Maths on Friday. We were learning about probability, the concept of things that will certainly happen, might happen and will never happen. When I asked the class for ideas her hand shot up and with a radiant face she said, “Mrs. P, Moshiach will come!” It was gorgeous.
Our granddaughter’s response echoes a grammatical comment in the Talmud on the meaning of the word “כי – when”:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף צ עמוד א
דאמר ריש לקיש: כי משמש בד’ לשונות: אי, דלמא, אלא, דהא;
Resh Lakish says the word “ki” serves four meanings: if-when, perhaps-when, rather-when and that-when.
That is, “when” can be conditional or probable, and “when” can be the promise of a sure thing.
So in this week’s Torah portion, when it says
דברים פרק כו פסוק א
והיה כי תבוא אל הארץ אשר יקוק אלהיך נתן לך נחלה וירשתה וישבת בה:
It should be read: “and it will be that when you come into the Land that HaShem your God is giving you and you inherit it and settle in it…” It’s a promise from HaShem.
In return, we are given the mitzvah that in appreciation for this fulfilled promise we are to bring an offering of first fruits from our farms and gardens to present before HaShem at the site of the Mishkan. The Mishnah tractate devoted to this mitzvah, Bikkurim, recounts in vivid detail the beautiful and elaborate ceremony of presenting the first fruits of the special species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (Dt. 8:8). Every person with these fruit trees inspects their orchard and designates the fruits that are first to appear. When they ripen, a handful of each of those fruits is gathered and arranged festively in a basket. All over the Land of Israel, in a rotating schedule, people gather together and spend the night in their town squares, each with their basket, and in the morning they walk together to Jerusalem in a joyful parade, with music and singing. From towns like Tzfat it’s a journey of several days, over mountains and through valleys and up over mountains again. When they arrive in Jerusalem they are greeted by the local leaders and citizens and escorted with more music and song to the Temple, where their baskets are received. Then each person recites the confession of first fruits as stated in our parsha, a statement of gratefulness to HaShem for guiding the Jewish people through our complicated history and bringing us to this Land, from which we offer its fruits in thanks.
Rabbi Moshe Alsheikh asks why it is that such a holy fuss is made every year over a handful of fruits in a little basket that must be brought by foot across the Land of Israel to be presented before God in a festive formal ceremony. He answers that in this way we really experience, directly and personally, the gifts that HaShem gives us, and really appreciate, directly and personally, His guiding Hand in our history and our lives. If we would ever dare think that we have accomplished all this ourselves by our own power, this mitzvah disabuses us of such arrogance and gives us a visceral sense of HaShem’s presence in our lives.
Without the Temple these days, we cannot yet practice this mitzvah. But some of the lesson of this mitzvah still resonates with us at this season in the Land of Israel. As we approach Rosh HaShanah, the summer harvest is ripening on the trees. When you see pomegranate trees bright with luscious red fruit, the Simanim or significant fruits we bring to the table on Rosh HaShanah night take on more direct meaning. We celebrate with the very fruits that are plentiful at this season and experience their significance in our lives and our destiny. So too, in the Land of Israel all mitzvot come alive and weave more naturally into our daily routine. I went shopping in the local hardware store today and the store is stocked with Sukkah building supplies – which is what I and many others came for. Where else in the world can you have a detailed knowledgeable discussion with the hardware stock guy on which support materials for the Skhakh contract ritual impurity and which do not?
When you experience the reality of mitzvot, you also experience the reality of HaShem’s guiding and supporting Hand in your life. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are about straightening out our lives by granting forgiveness to each other and receiving forgiveness from Ha-Shem for our mistakes. If another person has harmed us in some way, physically, emotionally, economically, existentially – can we and do we ever honestly forgiven them? If forgiveness is an act of generosity of spirit on our part, where does it come from? The ground for the possibility of forgiveness is our direct awareness that, whatever has occurred, it’s HaShem Who refreshes the world at every instant, Who infuses us all with new life and new energy at every moment. We are not stuck in the past, we are overflowing with His bounty at every moment and can ultimately let go of hurt and let it pass.
In the Land of Israel life has a certain buoyancy, a consciousness of
דברים פרק לג פסוק כז
מענה אלהי קדם ומתחת זרעת עולם
the dwelling place of God from ever, and beneath are His eternal arms.
When HaShem makes a promise He keeps it. So yes, it’s a sure thing, Mrs. P, Moshiach will come. May he come speedily, in our days.