Parashat Ki Tavo begins with a description of the ceremony of the bikkurim, the offering of the first fruit. “You shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that Adonai your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where Adonai your God will choose to establish the divine name” (Deuteronomy 26:2).
Why the first fruits, why not wait for the best fruits? Any agriculturist or home gardener knows that the first fruits of each season are often inferior in terms of their size, quality and presentation.
While the laws of bikkurim that were later discussed and implemented (particularly in the Talmud) state that the fruit that was brought as offering had to be the best of the first fruits available, the instructions found in this week’s parasha focus on the first set of produce that is grown in each season.
A key reason for this commandment is linked to gratitude combined with the potential associated with new beginnings. One of the focuses in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) is preparing this new generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land. We are reminded on a number of occasions of the importance of the land as a provider of sustenance and sustainability. We learn that the success of such endeavours is strongly linked to our beliefs, attitude and behaviour. If we act accordingly, we will be blessed with abundance, which in the case of agriculture means lots of rain (in the right season) and healthy crops.
The offering of the first fruits is an acknowledgement of gratitude. In terms of a formulaic pattern – we pray for rain and abundance of good crops, we carry out the duties expected of us (looking after the land, treating the land and animals with due respect), we enjoy the yield produced in our crops, and then we say thank you to God for all that we get to enjoy, and then we pray for rain, and so the cycle goes on.
Even though it is an ongoing cycle, the one part that we are totally responsible for is gratitude. We show how thankful we are from the very start of the harvest season, the first fruits that grow on the land are afforded an elevated position of importance, and are presented to God as a sign of our appreciation.
Moreover, we find ourselves approaching Rosh HaShanah, which is just over a week after Ki Tavo this year. Amongst several other themes and expectations in this season, we have an opportunity to start the new year of 5783 on the right foot – by showing gratitude for who we are and what we have. Perhaps like the first fruits of the harvest season, we should acknowledge that we have some improving to do, but we also acknowledge that as long as start off in the right manner (with gratitude), we develop the best chance of producing the choicest fruits in our seasons, and we allow ourselves to grow along the path of righteousness and abundance.