National Memory – Parashat Ki Tavo
Parashat Ki Tavo is mainly dedicated to strengthening the covenant that the Creator made with Bnei Yisrael. The Torah emphasizes again and again that when Am Yisrael keeps the commandments, they will merit blessing, and when they stray from the ways of God, they will be exiled from their land will greatly suffer.
A commandment appears at the beginning of the parasha that seems at first glance to be unrelated to the content of the parasha. This mitzvah is the one of “Bikurim”, first fruits.
What is this mitzvah? When a person grows the fruits of the l and of Israel, termed “Shivat HaMinim”, the Seven Species, he must bring the first fruits up to the Temple. The owner of the fruit and the priest raise the fruit up together to symbolize that they are sacred and then place them before the altar.
After this, there is a commandment that the person bringing the Bikurim must recite the verses that mention the history of am Yisrael and God’s salvation up to its entrance to the Land of Milk and Honey. The Torah states this as follows: “An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather (At the beginning of am Yisrael’s history, Yaakov worked for his father-in-law, Lavan, in the land of Aram where Lavan wished to destroy Yaakov and his sons), and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation. And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we creed out to the Lord, God of our Fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders.” (Dvarim 26:5-8)
In conclusion, the Torah states: “Then, you shall lay it before the Lord, your God, and prostrate yourself before the Lord, your God. Then you shall rejoice and all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household.” (Ibid 10:11)
Detailing the history of am Yisrael is part of the great gratitude to God for all His goodness, which reaches its peak when growing the select first fruits in the orchards. The nation that was persecuted and oppressed is rescued by God and is now residing calmly on its land growing first-rate fruit. Is there a connection between the mitzvah of reading the Bikurim and the covenant between Yisrael and God? Why was this commandment written specifically here?
By connecting these two issues, the Torah emphasizes the tremendous importance of an Am Yisrael’s national memory when establishing its resident in the Land and in fulfilling the Torah and keeping to God’s path. Before mentioned the covenant that God made with Bnei Yisrael and the nation’s obligation to walking the straight and proper path, the basis must be mentioned first: where we came from, where we were raised, and how God makes us into His nation.
For this reason, the Torah makes sure we remind ourselves what our situation was before the exodus from Egypt. We must sense the goodness that we benefitted from when the covenant was made with us, the Torah was given to us, and we were brought to the Land of Milk and Honey. On the strong basis of this powerful national memory, we build our obligation to walking the straight and proper path.
When we look at the Torah in general, we see that it consistently places history as the basis for our every moral and human obligation. A huge part of the first book of the Breishit is dedicated to creation of the world. The entire Torah deals with the history of the Jewish nation. Many mitzvot are in memory of the act of creation or in memory of the exodus from Egypt.
We must constantly remind ourselves where we come from and what Am Yisrael’s historical direction is. Only in this way can we strengthen our ability to choose the right path, the one that directs us to through His Torah and His mitzvot.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Site