Parshat Ki Tavo: Service

“Those who have seemed to me to be the most happy, contented and fulfilled have always been the people who have lived the most outgoing and unselfish lives.” – Queen Elizabeth II

Parshat Ki Tavo opens with the mitzvah of “bikkurim.” The people are commanded, after they settle Israel, to bring their first fruits to the Beit Hamikdash and recite a declaration about their journey from Egypt to Israel. What was the purpose of this mitzvah? And how can we preserve its message in our lives today? 

Rashi explains that bikkurim demonstrated that a person was not “kafui tova,” ungrateful to God. Taking the first, often most precious fruits, and offering them to God, is an expression of gratitude for such bounty. Rambam writes that bikkurim are a reminder to remain humble about our success, and to remember that God is the ultimate source of such blessings. Hence, the verbal recalling of our origins as slaves in Egypt, instilling us with humility, appreciation and generosity.

The language of “bringing the fruit of the soil” recalls the story of Kayin in Bereshit. The midrash depicts Kayin as ungenerous and entitled, the opposite of bikkurim. He brought a sub-standard offering to God and fought with his brother about what belonged to him.

Martin Buber pointed out that the root נתן, to give, appears 7 times in parshat bikkurim. Recurrences of 7 in Torah are always significant. By remembering God’s generosity and “giving back” to God, one becomes more generous. Dr. Tal Ben Shachar points out that the root n.t.n is a palindrome: the more we give, the more we receive, leading to increased happiness. Perhaps this is why this section ends with rejoicing while sharing our fruits with the less fortunate. Queen Elizabeth modeled this value to the world by devoting most of her life – over seventy years – to the service of her country. May we all find ways to be generous, to serve our country and society and to express gratitude, bringing more happiness to our lives. Shabbat Shalom -Karen Miller Jackson

Photo: Queen visiting Aberfan Gallo IMages/Getty images (

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