First Fruits of the Land of Israel
There is a common joke among Jews that summarizes all of our Jewish holidays in one sentence: They tried to kill us, G-d saved us, let’s eat. It doesn’t quite apply to every holiday, but certainly Passover, Purim and Hanukkah fit the bill. And the statement certainly tells us a great deal about Jewish culture.
In this week’s Torah reading, the first verses bring us full circle within the Jewish experience, creating a pattern that is repeated throughout history. “And it shall be when you come in to the land, which the Lord your G-d has given you for an inheritance, and you will possess it and dwell within it. You will take of the first of all the fruit of the earth which you shall bring of your land that the Lord your G-d has given you and shall put it in a basket and go to the place which the Lord your G-d has chosen to place His name there …And you will speak and say before the Lord your G- d: …and the Egyptians persecuted us … and we cried to G- d…and He heard our voices…and G-d took us out of Egypt, …and brought us to this place and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey…AND NOW I HAVE BROUGHT THE FIRST FRUITS OF THE EARTH THAT YOU, G-D, HAVE GIVEN TO ME.” And you shall lay it before G-d.” (Deuteronomy 26:1-11)
The very special ceremony of the first fruits is essentially a thanksgiving offering to G-d for the success of the harvest. But unlike any other thanksgiving ceremony in any other country, involving any other people, this ceremony reflects the entire history of the Jewish people — the suffering of exile, the miracle of redemption, the ingathering into the Land of Israel, and the successful development of the country and the people in the land.
With the simplest agricultural accomplishment, the ripening of the first fruits, we embody all that is special in the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. And, essentially, this is what every Jewish holiday is about. For we don’t just eat to enjoy a feast. We eat to enjoy the harvest, the gifts that we receive from G-d. We attend synagogue before the festive meal and thank G-d for the miracle of redemption. And we often serve special foods which remind us of the miracle.
Jewish life is a spiral, as similar events occur throughout the ages that bring us closer to the final redemption. We have suffered many exiles since Egypt and have witnessed many national miracles. The establishment of the State of Israel and all that has happened here since is the most recent of these miracles. May G-d grant us the final redemption, restore the Temple in Jerusalem so that we may, once again, bring our first fruits before Him in thanksgiving for what we have received.