Shabbat Reading and Commentary for the 36st week 2007,
Shabbat „Ki Tawo – When you will come“: Deuteronomy 26:1 till 29:8; Isaiah 60:1 till 22
By Michael Schneider
The backdrop of this week’s Shabbat reading is the giving of the “first fruit” of the ground “when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance…” (Deuteronomy 26:1-2). As we can see, it is a commandment that relies on being physically located in the Land of Israel. Every time a person brought this sacrifice to the LORD, he emphasized his gratefulness for and connection to the land and people of Israel.
The Hebrew word for “first” is reshit, which is also the first word in the Bible, leading Jewish scholars and sages to conclude in the Talmud that the universe was created because of these first fruit offerings. Moses goes on to enumerate God’s mighty deeds on behalf of Israel, including how He took “a wandering Aramean,” as he affectionately refers to Jacob in verse 5, and made out of him a vast and mighty nation and planted them in the Promised Land. He then urges the giving of thanks. “You shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you…” (26:11) Here we find a principle: True joy comes from giving our first fruits, the best of what we have, to the Lord. This leads to perfect joy. King Solomon, blessed with divine wisdom, backs up this principle in Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.”
Solomon knew this secret.
This offering of the firstling was and should always be accompanied by prayer (26:15): “Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the land which You have given us…” It should then be followed with a remembrance to keep God’s statutes and ordinances “with all your heart and with all your soul.”
In chapter 27 we read that once the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan River (symbolic of baptism) they were commanded to write the Law (Torah) on their hearts. If we translate the situation to the spiritual realm with our personal walk with Him and the Promise Land is the promised Kingdom of Heaven, we can see the fullfillment of the New Covenant shown in Jeremiah 31: “I will put my law (torah) in their minds and write it on their hearts.” In our portion in verse 8 we find an interesting ending, which in Hebrew says ba’er hetev, and which means in English: make it clear or explain it well. By this Orthodox Jews understand, in keeping with the Jewish tradition, that when the Written Law was given so was the the Oral Law, those unwritten precepts that later became the foundation of the Mishna and Talmud. Moses added instructions before the Children of Israel (without him) cross the Jordan River. Six tribes were assembled on the mount of blessing, Gerizim, and the other six on the mount of curses, Ebal, where we find a long list of things those redeemed by the Lord are not to do (verses 15-26). In chapter 28 we find a lineup of all the blessings that will come over the people if they will hear and follow the voice of their God. “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.” (verse 26) This blessing is used among Jews till today, and is even framed and hanged as a blessing over homes.
But Moses knew his people and therefore he continues a much longer list of “but if you do not obey the LORD…” In this list from verse 16 to 69 we find all what one wouldn’t wish upon himself or anyone else. We read in 28:28: “The LORD will smite you with madness and with blindness and with bewilderment of heart.” Unfortunately, also verse 53 was put into effect in the History of the Jewish people, when the city of Jerusalem was sieged.
The answer, why all this will happen, is also given: “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart…” Moses continues to warn them with these words: “It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.” (verse 63) “In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart…” What terrible words. But in our messianic chapter in Isaiah 60 we find comfort. After all the suffering that came over the Jewish nation and what was foretold already in Moses’ time, also this promise will be fulfilled: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you!”