Parsha Ki Tavo - Debarim/Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:9
Today, I harvested a tomato. Yep, "a" tomato. Just one. The first one (and probably the only one) off the vine.
But I’m proud of my little tomato. Out of all my playing with dirt in the backyard over the years, I’ve only had a couple of real tomatoes (real meaning edible).
So, I was definitely proud. Gardening success! Finally, I grew something!
And then I remembered this week’s parsha…
This week’s parsha discusses the first-fruits, bikkurim:
Debarim/Deuteronomy 26:1-2 “And it shall be, when you come into the land which יהוה your Elohim is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it,
(2) that you shall take some of the first of all the fruits of the soil which you bring from your land that יהוה your Elohim is giving you, and shall put it in a basket and go to the place where יהוה your Elohim chooses to make His Name dwell there."
It also discusses the tithe, maaser:
Deb/Deut. 26:12-13 “When you have completed tithing all the tithe of your increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Lewite, to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, and they have eaten within your gates and have been satisfied,
(13) then you shall say before יהוה your Elohim, ‘I have put away the set-apart portion from my house, and also have given it to the Lewite, and to the stranger, and to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Your command which You have commanded me. I have not transgressed Your commands, nor have I forgotten."
What’s Really Important
In Parsha Ki Tavo, the children of Yisrael are still in the plains of Moab preparing to cross into the Promised Land. Moshe finishes reviewing the commands, laws, and right-rulings with Yisrael (ch. 11-26), and the last two mitzvot (commandments) he gives are the bikkurim and the maaser, the first-fruits and the tithe.
Think about it: here they are, ready to enter the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey; the land they only dreamed about, having heard about it from their fathers. This former-slave nation was entering a land of unimaginable prosperity. They would have everything they ever dreamed of - cities they didn't build, houses filled with all kinds of goods that they didn’t fill, wells they didn’t dig, and vineyards and olive trees they didn’t plant (Deb/Deut. 6:11). Truly, they were about to “make it.” Success was right across the Jordan.
So, what does Moshe reiterate to them?
It’s not about the money. It’s about the relationship. Don't forget YAHUAH!
Moshe emphasizes that in all the abundant blessings, they were not to forget YAHUAH their Elohim. He warns them of the danger of forgetting Elohim with all the curses listed in chapters 27 and 28.
It is a serious matter. After all the blessings, we cannot forget YAHUAH our Elohim.
Reconnecting with the Source
All of the commandments help us to remember YAH, but the last two mitzvot Moshe reviews are especially significant in the midst of abundant blessings.
When Yisrael entered the Land, they were commanded to bring the firsts of all their fruits to the place where YAHUAH chooses to make His Name dwell. No matter where they lived in Yisrael, when the first of their harvests ripened, they traveled with it to the Set-Apart Place and presented it to the priest before YAHUAH.
Then, he had to declare that he had come into the Land which YAHUAH promised his fathers and give a short declaration of the history of Yisrael - how his father went down to Mitsrayim and was oppressed, but YAHUAH brought them out from there and brought them into the land of Yisrael.
Every year at the season of first-fruits, one had to go to the Set-Apart Place with the firsts of all his fruits and make this declaration.
The tithes were similar. Ten percent of every harvest was given to the Levites (maaser rishon). Every third and sixth year, a second tithe, an additional 10%, (maaser ani) was given to the poor - the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.
When one came to the Set-Apart Place, he had to make a declaration that he indeed separated and gave the tithe to the Levite and to the poor. Then, he asked a blessing on all Yisrael.
Both cases, bikkurim and maaser, required one to visit the Set-Apart Place at the time of the harvest. At an undoubtedly busy time, they took time off and traveled to the Set-Apart Place to present a “thank you” to YAHUAH.
In other words, in all their abundance, they stopped and reconnected with the Source of their blessing. In the midst of plenty, they gave YAHUAH thanks.
In their success, they remembered YAHUAH.
Taking the Credit
The real danger that lies in wealth and success is forgetting YAHUAH.
It’s so easy to do. It’s especially so in today’s day and age.
In Scriptural times, their livelihood directly depended on YAHUAH. If YAH blessed with rains in their proper amounts at the proper times, then they had a good harvest, and their needs were met. If there were no rains, there was no harvest, and their needs were not met.
It didn’t matter how hard they worked. If YAHUAH didn’t give rain, there would be no harvest. It was easier then to see a direct connection between YAHUAH and their blessings.
Now, it’s more difficult to see YAH’s Hand.
If we work at our job all week, then we know our boss will issue us a check - rain or shine. If we don’t work, then we won’t get a check. Week after week, month after month, year after year, we begin to make a connection that we earn our livelihood.
If we finally “make it” and become successful after laboring for years, it’s extremely hard not to take the credit for it. We worked hard, investing our time and energy. Surely, we earned this success. I labored, and I achieved it.
Where is YAHUAH?
Yes, we acknowledge Him readily when He comes through for us in a time of need, and yes, we may utter thanks in our prayers for our daily blessings.
But just how much do we really depend on Him for our livelihood?
And how much credit do we really give Him for our success?
If we take the credit for our daily livelihood and for our achievements and successes, then we are forgetting YAHUAH.
Deb/Deut. 8:11-18 “Be on guard, lest you forget יהוה your Elohim by not guarding His commands, and His right-rulings, and His laws which I command you today,
(12) lest you eat and shall be satisfied, and build lovely houses and shall dwell in them,
(13) and your herds and your flocks increase, and your silver and your gold are increased, and all that you have is increased,
(14) that your heart then becomes lifted up, and you forget יהוה your Elohim who brought you out of the land of Mitsrayim, from the house of bondage,
(15) who led you through that great and awesome wilderness – fiery serpents and scorpions and thirst – where there was no water, who brought water for you out of the flinty rock,
(16) who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, in order to humble you and to try you, to do you good in the end,
(17) you then shall say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand have made for me this wealth!’
(18) “But you shall remember יהוה your Elohim, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is today.
Moshe wanted to make sure Yisrael didn't forget YAHUAH, so he reiterated the laws of bikkurim and maaser. At every instance of blessing, success, and provision, they went to the Set-Apart Place and reconnected with the One Who made it all happen.
YAHUAH is still in charge of all. Just because it’s harder to see His Hand, it doesn’t mean He’s not there. He is still the One providing for us and blessing us.
That’s the whole point of the laws of bikkurim and maaser. By obeying these laws, we stay connected to YAHUAH and don’t fall prey to the idolatrous belief that our own power and the strength of our own hand made us this wealth.
We didn’t do it. YAH did it!
How different our lives - and the world! - would be if we put bikkurim and maaser into practice today!
What if every time we received our livelihood we went before YAHUAH with a portion and gave Him thanks?
What if every time we were successful in something we declared out loud how YAHUAH delivered us from our former circumstances and brought us into this blessing?
What if everyone - everyone - separated 10% of their earnings and gave it to YAH’s servants or to the poor and needy?
Surely, the world would be a different place if everyone truly acknowledged YAHUAH and gave Him thanks.
How different our personal life would be if at every instance of achievement or success, or in just receiving our daily livelihood, we stopped and truly connected with the One Who made it happen.
Let the change start with us, the set-apart ones.
May we all learn the lesson of bikkurim and maaser and remember YAHUAH in all our blessings and all our successes.