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Parshat Ki Tavo – Purpose of Creation


Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 from 27 August till 2 September

וְהָיָה֙ כִּֽי־תָב֣וֹא אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֙ ד’ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ נַחֲלָ֑ה וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֖הּ וְיָשַׁ֥בְתָּ בָּֽהּ׃

When you enter the land that your G-d Hashem is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it,

וְלָקַחְתָּ֞ מֵרֵאשִׁ֣ית׀ כׇּל־פְּרִ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר תָּבִ֧יא מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֛ אֲשֶׁ֨ר ד’ אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָ֖ךְ וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ בַטֶּ֑נֶא וְהָֽלַכְתָּ֙ אֶל־הַמָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ ד’ אֱלֹקיךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָֽׁם׃

you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that your G-d Hashem is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where your G-d Hashem will choose to establish the divine name.

The second pasuk speaks of  מֵרֵאשִׁ֣ית this takes us back to Genesis 1:1 where we find בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית. Chazal teach that the whole purpose of creation is to bring these first, the best, fruits of the land – adama –  to G-d. We see in Genesis 1 till 4 that fruit plays an important role. Adam was instructed to eat from all the fruits of the trees.[1] Eating of the fruit was a way of being able to thank and praise G-d for His creation and recognize Him as King. Cain and Abel wanted to thank G-d for the produce of the land and animals and wanted to give a sacrifice, as it is written:

וַֽיְהִ֖י מִקֵּ֣ץ יָמִ֑ים וַיָּבֵ֨א קַ֜יִן מִפְּרִ֧י הָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה מִנְחָ֖ה לַד’׃

In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to G-d Hashem from the fruit of the soil;

וְהֶ֨בֶל הֵבִ֥יא גַם־ה֛וּא מִבְּכֹר֥וֹת צֹאנ֖וֹ וּמֵֽחֶלְ בֵהֶ֑ן וַיִּ֣שַׁע ד’ אֶל־הֶ֖בֶל וְאֶל־מִנְחָתֽוֹ׃

and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. G-d Hashem paid heed to Abel and his offering.

and He did not paid heed to Cain. What went wrong with the offering of Cain? The text seems to suggest that Cain had first thought of making an offering to G-d and that Abel followed suit. Why did Cain not get the honor that was due to him, from our point of view, and Abel did? Didn’t they both bring a gift to say “thank you” to G-d?

Cain simply brought something from what the land ָֽאֲדָמָ֛ה – adama had yielded, he had not put any effort into it. Abel, on the other hand, brought from his firstlings צֹאנ֖וֹtsono . Abel brought what he had put effort into, what had cost him energy and toil. He brought not just something, but the first borne, that which had brought him the most joy.

Here in Parsha Ki Tavo the farmers worked hard on their land throughout the year. Clearing the soil of stones, ploughing, sowing, removing impurities and pests, watering etc. and then finally after all that hard work, a first fruit emerges. The crown, the reward on all the hard work, what a joy! This fruit was marked with a sign, and it would be brought to the Cohen in the Temple, the place G-d had chosen to dwell in. All other offerings were partially or completely burnt on the altar; however, the fruits were not. The bikorim/ first fruits were only brought to the altar, lifted there, and given to the Cohen who could use the bikorim/ first fruits.

The korbanot – the sacrifices – were meant to bring people closer to G-d, but the bikorim/ first fruits were meant to elevate the physical world. The recognition that, despite having to work hard for the fruits, it is G-d who gave the fruits, and that only what is His is given back to Him. This acknowledged that He is the King of Creation. That was the purpose of creation, the recognition of His Kingship, and in this case the King of the physical fruits. No King without servants acknowledging Him.

I believe it is not a coincidence then that this Parsha is read in the month of Elul, the month in which the King is in the Field. Close to the people, close to them who wants to acknowledge Him as King and wants to give Him gifts. But what are our gifts, what are our fruits?

There are 7 fruits that were brought as bikorim. These fruits symbolize the 7 attributes of a person like loving-kindness and strength. Our attributes are like trees, we must work hard for them to produce the desired fruits. As human beings, we sometimes make wrong decisions and choices. We need to prune some branches or remove them – we need to repent – and to give the healthy branches the energy to grow – by studying Torah and Mussar.

If we want fruits – good attributes- we will have to put a lot of time and energy into it. And at some point, you experience success, you managed to…That moment of joy, of pride, that is the moment you want to bring to G-d in thanksgiving, that He helped you achieve your first fruit of your effort, the breakthrough in a change. By thanking Him, we acknowledge that He is the King of the Creation, and in this case the King of the spiritual fruits. How the world can acknowledge, honor, and thank G-d as King is taught by the Jewish people. They are G-d’s Firstborn Son, His bikor. From our point of view, G-d had to wait for a long time after He created the world for a people to acknowledge Him as King.

G-ds bikor – Israel – was the purpose of creation – because their recognition of His Kingship would become the breakthrough to a total recognition of His Kingship. How would this work? Let’s go back to the text to see how the bikorim were given to G-d by the people of Israel.

The bikorim were given by the people with a specific blessing that could only be said from the time all the tribes had their share in the land. Which was about 14 years later after they first set foot in the land. This contrasts with, the blessing said over an apple, or wine, or a wonderful smell which can all be said by an individual person.

The word “land” – eretz – is etymologically linked to the word “will” – ratzon. The moment Israel rules over all the land, rules over the will to live fully according to G-ds will, it will be able to start bringing the first fruits as a people as a whole with special blessings.

We saw in the beginning of this blog the sentence:

Chazal teach from this that the whole purpose of creation is to bring these first, the best, fruits of the adama – land/ world –  to G-d.

The purpose of Israel is to bring the light of Torah to the nations. They must work hard to teach the peoples how to develop their attributes in a manner desired by G-d, they must work hard to make it clear to the world that there is One G-d Who is King and Creator. But after hard work, work of thousands of years, they can bring the first fruits to G-d. These first fruits are only “just” the breakthrough to more fruits. After these firstlings, more and more people will come from the nations, clinging to the Jewish man’s tzitzit [2] to be taught about G-d. In this way, the prophecy given to Zechariah by G-d will be fulfilled:

וְהָיָ֧ה ד’ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כׇּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִהְיֶ֧ה ד’ אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃

And G-d shall be sovereign over all the earth; in that day there shall be One G-d with One name. (Zecharia 14:9)

At this time of the Jewish month of Elul, let’s turn to G-d, ask forgiveness for wrong decisions, improve our attributes, and increase His Kingship on earth.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Except the Tree of Knowledge that stood in the middle of the garden It was not that Adam and Chava were never allowed to eat from that tree, but they should have waited until the seventh day, the Shabbat.
[2] The word tzitzit (צִיצִית) is literally defined as “fringes,” and refers to the strings attached to the corners of the tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl.

כֹּֽה־אָמַר֮ ד’ צְבָאוֹת֒ בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔מָּה אֲשֶׁ֤ר יַחֲזִ֙יקוּ֙ עֲשָׂרָ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים מִכֹּ֖ל לְשֹׁנ֣וֹת הַגּוֹיִ֑ם וְֽהֶחֱזִ֡יקוּ בִּכְנַף֩ אִ֨ישׁ יְהוּדִ֜י לֵאמֹ֗ר נֵֽלְכָה֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם כִּ֥י שָׁמַ֖עְנוּ אֱלֹקים עִמָּכֶֽם׃ 

Thus said G-D of Hosts: In those days, ten people from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of their cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you.” (Zechariah 8:23)

Kehot Chumash: Ki Tavo


נתיבות שלום

With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration

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