Gratitude Through the First Fruits

          Parsht Ki Tavo begins with the offering of first fruits. Our ancestors were required to consecrate their first fruits in the Land of Israel to God by means of God’s representative, the Levites. This taught them two lessons: that the fruit and the trees on which they grow does not belong to them but rather to God and that they need to be grateful for having been given the privilege of entering the Land of Israel. I think about the latter often as I was privileged to go to Israel, to see firsthand Lod, Kibbutz Kfar Azza, Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah, while so many continue to be denied the opportunity to enter the Holy Land because of the spread of COVID.

          What we learn from Ki Tavo is to have gratitude for our lot and all our privileges in life, rather than taking them for granted. We also learn that our material possessions are not ours to exploit but rather a gift on loan from the Holy One. If utilized properly, we will feel the effects of their blessings; if not, they might become a curse unto us. I hope that as we read about entering Israel and showing gratitude through the gift of the first fruits to the Almighty that we will always appreciate all that we have and that we shall give of our gifts to spread godliness in the world and make it a better place.

Stewards of God’s World

          The Torah is an environmental document. The rabbinic statement בל תשחית, you shall not destroy, originates from this week’s Torah portion. We learn “when in war against a city you have to besiege…you must not destroy its trees, wielding the axe against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?”[1]

          The Torah acknowledges from the very beginning the need for human stewardship of the world. It says “the man was placed in the Garden of Eden to work it and tend to it (לעבדה ולשומרה).[2] Our role is to protect the earth. Parshat Shoftim reinforces it, saying that we cannot prey upon trees, deforesting entire populations so that they run out of produce. No matter whom we are fighting, we must protect their vegetation.

          With our seeing the impact of climate change in our own lifetime-larger fires, warmer temperatures, and more powerful hurricanes-this section of Shofetim serves as a wake-up call for us to do our part in being stewards of God’s world. On Shabbat we should recognize this even more than on other days. The prohibition against melacha (creative activity) on Shabbat is to teach that the productive manipulation of the environment is not an absolute right.[3]

          As we celebrate Jason’s Bar Mitzvah this weekend let us think about what we can do to fulfill our job as stewards of God’s world for future generations. In doing so, may we do our small but significant part in combating climate change.

[1] Deuteronomy 20:19

[2] Genesis 2:15

[3] Dr. I. Grunfeld, The Sabbath, Feldheim Publishers, 1972, pp. 3-29. 9.