My goal in this brief Dvar is to explain the Parsha Ki-Tavo so that all can understand, from a three year old up to an adult. And to ensure that preschoolers can grasp some of my discourse, I went to the Parsha book that Esther’s nursery school class put together two years ago. Here are their Parsha questions and answers:
What are bikkurim? Bikkurim are the special first fruits that grow in Eretz Yisrael.
Are any foods bikkurim? Only the shiva minim, the seven special foods that grow in Eretz Yisrael.
Are we allowed to bring the bikkurim to the Bait Hamikdash in a plastic shopping bag?
No. The bikkurim are a present to Hashem. They must be brought in a nice basket.
How did the Jewish people feel when they brought the bikkurim to the Bait Hamikdash?
The people were very happy when they brought the bikkurim to the Bait Hmikdaash. They would even play music and sing!
What do the bikkurim teach us? The bikkurim teach us that all of our food is from Hashem.
For the adults, I have dug a little further and looked at two references: Rabbi Schochet’s comments on a Lubavitch Internet site and an essay by Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Asen in The Women’s Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein.
Rabbi Schochet refers to the mitzvah of bikkurim. The farmer overcomes his personal desires when he brings to the kohen the fruits that are most precious to him. He says that every Jew must regard himself as being “first fruits.” This means that with respect to every deed and utterance, and even his thoughts, he must see to it that they be not only correct but excelling in quality.
Rabbi Wechsler-Asen calls Ki Tavo “The Basket Ceremony of Gratitude and Hope.” She describes the procession of the majestic oxen crowned with olive leaves, the farmer’s prayers, the giving of the basket to the kohen, the placement beside the altar, and the farmers prostration before the altar. “Entering the land in this way serves as a powerful ritualized bridge connecting the past with the present. The farmers are reminded of both their personal and historical suffering, as well as their ability to overcome difficulties by placing God at the centre. Once articulated, they no longer need to carry symbols of enslavement on their persons, but rather, the potential of new life: first fruits.
Thus, a three-step formula for how to enter a new place or a new chapter of our life is set before us. First, elevate your personal dreams as demonstrated in these lines: ‘You will take some of every first fruit of the soil...and put it in a basket and go to the place where Adonai your God will choose.’
Second, acknowledge pain and survival of that pain: ‘The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labour upon us. We cried to Adonai...and Adonai heard our plea. Adonai freed us from Egypt. ‘
And third, let generosity extend from your happiness as shown by the following passage: ‘You shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that Adonai your God has bestowed upon you and your household. The future, the past and the present and woven together, making the basket the perfect symbol for the moment.’