One of the key aspects of our being created in the Divine image is the gift of speech. As the world was created with ten Divine utterances (Avot 5:1), our tzelem elokim, divine image, allows us to create, or G-d forbid, destroy, many little “human” worlds through our speech. Yet strangely—perhaps brilliantly is a more apt description—there is very little a Jew must actually say.
In the secular world in which we live it can be—and often is—hard to feel the presence of G-d. The Western world has turned religion into a private issue by establishing a wall separating church and state. Undoubtedly, this separation of church and state has had great benefits for the Jewish community. The tremendous growth and confidence of American Jewry is in no small measure due to the constitutional barring of the public endorsement of any religion.
"And now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land which You have given me" (Devarim 26:10). The Israeli farmer was to express his gratitude for his bounty by bringing his first fruits to the Temple and publicly thanking G-d for the privilege of living in, and developing, the holy land.
Those of us living in Canada are especially sensitive to the importance of language to the fabric of a country. The language that one speaks is, more often than not, indicative of cultural norms and attitudes. It is thus no surprise that on many an issue, the views of the people of Quebec differ sharply from those residing in the rest of the country. While it may seem strange to us today, the modern-day Zionist movement debated the question of which official language the nascent state would recognize.
Parshat Ki Tavo opens with the mitzvot of bikkurim, the farmers’ bringing of his first fruits of the land to the Temple, and viddui maaser, the declaration of this same farmer that all tithes have been properly distributed.
With less than two weeks until Rosh Hashanah, the theme of teshuva begins to take centre stage. While the cycle of Torah reading--and for that matter, the obligation of public Torah reading itself--is only rabbinic in nature, the parshiot at the end of Devarim mesh nicely with the themes of the Yamim Noraim. Moshe Rabbeinu's focus in these last few parshiot is to get the nation ready for entry into a new land.
The central aspect of the Pesach seder is the mitzvah of sippur yetziat mitzraim, retelling and reliving the Exodus experience. The Rabbis chose, as the central text to tell the story, that of the farmers' recital of thanksgiving as he fulfilled the mitzvah of bikkurim.
Man has an innate desire to see the fruit of his own efforts. When life's blessings are handed to one on a silver platter, those blessings are robbed of much of their meaning. This explains the well-known phenomenon in which children of very successful parents want to strike out on their own, gaining their own sense of accomplishment. Though their success can often be attributed to the support and the safety net of successful parents, nonetheless, these children feel that they have succeeded on their own.