Parashat Ki Tavo

The first three parashiot of the Book of DeuteronomyDevarim, Va’etchanan,and Eikev—constitute the first section of Moses’ farewell address to his people, in which he chiefly exhorts them to continue to observe the Torah’s commandments after they cross into the Promised Land.The next three parashiot—Re’eh, Shoftim, and Teitzei—are for the most part devoted to the second section of Moses’ farewell address: his exposition of certain portions of the Torah’s legal corpus that were either already presented in the preceding books of the Torah or that became relevant only at this point, on the eve of the people’s entry into the Promised Land, and whose presentation was therefore deferred until now. The present parashah—Tavo—marks both the conclusion of this second section of Moses’ farewell address as well as the beginning of the third and final section, his review of the covenantal bond between God and the Jewish people. This review will continue through the ensuing four parashiot, to the end of the Book of Deuteronomy.

The first part of parashat Tavo, the conclusion of Moses’ exposition of the Torah’s legal corpus, focuses on one, single commandment: the obligation to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The question that naturally arises, then, is: Would it not have been more logical to place this lone commandment at the end of the preceding parashah, having it conclude the second, legal section of Moses’ farewell address, and then begin this parashah with the final section? Clearly, there must be some reason the last commandment to be discussed in Moses’ legal review is prefaced to his exposition of the covenantal bond between God and the Jewish people, as if it was chosen to set the tone for the entire exposition, and thus effectively for the rest of the book.


Bringing the first fruits to the Temple is an expression of thanksgiving to God for His beneficence. In this regard, it is no different from the many other ways in which we give thanks to God for His bounty. Thanksgiving to God forms both a large part of the daily liturgy as well as many of the blessings we recite throughout the day. What distinguishes the commandment of the first fruits is that it is not only a declaration but also an act: we actually bring something to God.

By so doing, we demonstrate that everything in the world—even that which we have produced by our own efforts and which we should therefore rightfully be entitled to call our own—actually belongs to its Creator. Whatever “belongs” to us is really only entrusted into our care in order to enable us to fulfill our mission on earth: to make the world into God’s home.

Allegorically, the Jewish people are God’s first fruits,1 since the rest of creation was brought into being merely in order to function as the setting in which the Jewish people could fulfill their Divine imperative. Inasmuch as the Jewish soul is pure Divine consciousness, it is the epitome of the “home for God” that creation was intended to be, the model for the rest of creation.

Just as the first fruits must be brought to the Temple, so is the Temple every Jew’s natural home, by virtue of his natural, intrinsic God-consciousness; every Jew’s natural environment is proximity to God.

This consciousness should ideally pervade all aspects of our lives. Even when we are not actively engaged in overtly “religious” pursuits, we should remember that we are “first fruits” and live every moment in intimacy with God.

Thus, the commandment to bring the first fruits is a tangible expression of our true relationship with God. In this sense, it expresses much more than our thanksgiving to God or the acknowledgement that He is the master of all creation; it demonstrates how we ourselves are essentially one with Him and belong together with Him at all times.

It is thus clear why the commandment to bring the first fruits is postured as an introduction to Moses’ exposition of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. It articulates the true depth of this covenant and indeed sets the tone for all that is to follow.


Furthermore, the commandment to bring the first fruits teaches us that our bond with God, in essence, transcends even the Torah itself. True, under normal circumstances our relationship with God is defined by the Torah and operates through the Torah’s directives concerning how we live our lives. But there are times when our covenant with God “overrides” the Torah. For example, when a Jew violates part of the Torah, or, through no fault of his or her own, has not been properly exposed to the Torah and therefore has yet to accept it as their guide in life, he or she remains a Jew nonetheless, and his or her covenantal bond with God is as intact as that of any other Jew: such individuals are God’s first fruits and belong in the Temple. It is just that this inner essence has been hidden by circumstances.

The text that is recited when we bring the first fruits reflects this very concept. “An Aramean [Laban] tried to destroy my father [Jacob]; he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and became there a great, strong, and populous nation. The Egyptians mistreated and afflicted us, and made us work hard. But we cried out to God, God of our fathers, and God…took us out of Egypt…and brought us to this place [the Temple]….” What is articulated here is God’s love for His people before the Torah was given, before we entered into a contractual relationship with Him. We invoke here God’s relationship to us that transcends the Torah.

This intrinsic relationship forms the basis of the covenant that we will study in detail in the course of the rest of the Book of Deuteronomy.

It is also therefore apt that this parashah is named Tavo, “you enter [the land].” Entering the land would seem to be nothing more than a prerequisite to living in the land and to fulfilling the commandments we can perform only in the land. But the essential lesson of this parashah is that everything about us belongs to God, that even seemingly ancillary and preparatory aspects of our lives are part of our relationship with Him and should be permeated with the same intensity of Divine consciousness and emotion that should permeate the more overtly “religious” aspects of our lives.

A further lesson: The fact that the name of this parashah—which is devoted to the covenantal bond between God and the Jewish people that pervades all aspects of life—is “you enter,” indicates that whatever we do, we should enter into it with our full heart and soul. Even if we are only preparing to serve God, we should put our all into this preparation, since at that moment, that is the essence of our service to God. As such, it both includes and sets the tone for the ongoing relationship with God that we will consummate presently.

And finally, the Torah does not state “if you enter” but “when you enter.” This teaches us that we should at all times be aware that we stand at the threshold of the Promised Land, that the true and final Redemption is only a breath away, and that if we only put ourselves fully into our present relationship with God, we are assured of the consummation of this relationship that will accompany the complete and final Redemption.2