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Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8

“And the Lord has affirmed this day that you are, as He promised you,
His treasured people who shall observe all his commandments.” (Deuteronomy 26:18)

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with a conditional statement: “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, viy’rishta v’yashavta ba, and you possess it and dwell in it.” (Deut. 26:1) It continues with a description of the ritual of offering bikkurim, the first fruits of the land. The Kli Yakar (1550 – 1619; Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz) notes the phrase, “you possess it and dwell in it” occurs only twice in the Torah: here in Ki Tavo and in the commandments for appointing a king (Deut. 17:14) and asks what connects these two incidents. His answer is how the Israelites change once they conquer Canaan and settle there. They become complacent, “fat,” and arrogant. They forget what is important and instead desire what is superficial. Most importantly, they lose their “attitude of gratitude” and develop an entitlement mentality. They become corrupted by the illusion of possession.

The bikkurim ceremony is designed to fight this tendency. By giving up the land’s first fruits, the Israelites acknowledge the source of their well-being, which is made abundantly clear in the opening verse: “…that the Lord your God is giving you.” The Israelites can never possess the land; they can only serve as stewards of a gift meant to provide for generations.

Nationalism is much in the news these days and the Kli Yakar’s trenchant insight from 400 years ago is instructive: the land’s bounty, whether material, social, spiritual, or intellectual, is to be shared. Ki Tavo is a real sharing economy; any group that presumes exclusive ownership has forgotten where it comes from.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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