Ki Savo 3

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


To Be First

Parshas Ki Savo

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


This week’s portion has the commandment of bikurim — first fruits. This is when farmers in the land of Israel would bring their first fruits to Jerusalem and give them to the priest. “That you shall take from the first of every fruit of the ground in your land that G-d gives you” (Deut. 26:2).

Performing the commandment of the first fruits has tremendous merit. The Midrash (Bereshis Rabbah 1:4) counts it as one of three commandments in whose merit the world was created (tithes of the field, and the challah portion taken off of dough are the other two). These commandments are described using the word rashis — first — which is the root of the first word of the Torah — Bereshis — in the beginning.

What is so special about this commandment?

In the book of Jeremiah the prophet says: “Israel is holy to G-d, the first of His harvest” (Jeremiah 2:3). The Maharal explains that the word “first” refers to the Jewish people being the first “thought” of G-d. An analogy may be drawn to a farmer who plants wheat. His first thought is on the wheat, though a crop of straw may be the first result from the planting. This is how G-d created the world. Although other nations may have preceded the Jewish people in creation, the Jewish people were the ultimate goal, i.e., first in “thought”.

The “first” connotes a level of importance, of purpose.

The mitzva of Bikurim has a unique ceremony that crystallizes this concept. When the bikurim were brought, the basket was first given to the priest, and the priest and owner would hold it together and wave the basket in all directions, showing G-d’s dominion over the world.

Afterwards the owner would take it and say: “An Armenean tried to destroy my father (referring to Lavan the father in law of Yakov {Jacob}). My forefather descended to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, strong and numerous. The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us and placed hard work upon us. Then we cried out to G-d, the G-d of our forefathers. G-d heard our voices and saw our afflictions, our travails and our oppression. He took us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. With awesome signs and wonders He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now I have brought the first fruit of the ground that you G-d have given me” (Deut 26:5-9).

This paragraph teaches what our perspective towards observing the commandments should be. We must be cognizant of our relationship with G-d. When we bring our first fruits to the Temple, it is not an independent act. Rather, it is a link in the chain that connects us to Yakov, also called Israel, as he is the father of Israel. Just as G-d has been with Yakov, He is with us. He has been good to us and continues to be good to us and we have an unbreakable covenant with Him.

We should never look at a commandment as existing in a vacuum. Rather, we must constantly trace each mitzva back to its source. We must see it as part and parcel of our relationship with G-d. It is something we do because we are “first”. This is why first fruits are used as the paradigm of how the commandments should be observed.

When we look at the commandments this way, it enables to have a meaningful relationship with G-d.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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