Throughout history Jewish tradition has maintained a close connection with fruit and produce. In Judaism, the production of fruit is a sign of peace and stability, a major economic resource, and a symbol deeply ingrained in ritual observance. This week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, includes a number of different ways fruit is important to us and the societies we create.
Ki Tavo opens with a description of the Bikkurim ritual, the bringing of the first fruits of the season as a gift to God and those who maintain the Temple. This (hopefully) overflowing basket affirms the culmination of God’s promise to our ancestors as we invite God to look upon our offering and see what the land “flowing with milk and honey” has produced. We are also reminded this week of who else benefits from our harvests – the Levite, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. We are instructed to give at least ten percent of our yields to those who have no system to provide for themselves.
From these two examples alone, it is clear how we are expected to use our bounty. When we have plenty, we are expected to give our excess away.
It sounds like a lot to expect of a person – to work day in and day out to ensure the necessities, be blessed with more, and then demand that they give it away. Perhaps it makes a little more sense when considering the limited timeframe that the Israelites had to use the fruits of their labor, it’s better to give away than to let perfectly edible food spoil. But in our industrial society, where resources are “shelf stable,” so to speak, it’s hard to imagine letting so much go after we’ve worked so hard to earn.
Maybe this is why Moses chooses to end part-three of his four-part goodbye speech with a list of the blessings and curses the Israelites might earn depending on their adherence to God’s commandments. Should they disobey, God will send curses. Should they obey, God will send blessings. Simple enough, right?
The blessings that Moses lists are clear and straightforward. Keeping the mitzvot will lead to ever present bounty, protection from enemies and illness, and the production of an even more miraculous fruit – babies. Observing God’s commandments will ensure a satisfying and safe present, and the sweetest of all futures.
But should they reject God and God’s mitzvot? Now that’s another story.
For 65 verses, Moses goes into the terrible details of curses. The people will be scattered from their land and their home. They will never feel safe or fulfilled wherever they end up. They will become enslaved, once again, to an archetypal power. Every seed they plant will not bring them satisfaction – they won’t live in the houses they built, the animals they reared will die, and the crops they tended will be confiscated by their enemies. Worst of all, those miracle fruits, the next generation who might have otherwise corrected our mistakes, suffer a truly unimaginable fate. In the worst world imaginable, even tender men and women are cursed to devour their own children.
How is it that Moses could promise such an awful fate for breaking the law of God? It is almost impossible to come to terms with this section of Torah. Unless…
Unless Moses isn’t actually promising anything. Instead, maybe he’s making a prediction.
From the time of Moses to now, “fruit” has always been more than just the produce that we eat. Fruit is something we earn, something we desire, something to show success, something to plant for the future. Fruit is just another word for resource.
In our portion, we read a couple of the many instructions for our physical fruit. A successful society will take its physical resources and reinvest them in the mechanisms that created that prosperity in the first place. A healthy society will take its physical resources and provide for the people living within it. In the world that Moses hopes we will create, individuals as well as societies are expected to share resources, not hoard them.
But fruit can also take on another, more intangible form. When our spiritual resources – our time, our love, our care and concern – are hoarded rather shared, we create the worst kind of world. The egocentric world, where no level of physical or spiritual resource will ever be enough, where we compete for who has most, where we ignore those who have none, where we enslave ourselves to accumulation, is the world that Moses sees when we give in to our lowest instincts. It is a world where we curse ourselves.
And so, God commands us to create a better one. Not by giving away all of our fruit, but by giving away a percentage, giving a simple basketful of care to someone else. Just that one act, in our seasons of overflowing bounty, creates a world in which we all find blessing – from the lowest to the highest among us. We are commanded to plant, tend, and reap the benefits of a world where even the smallest act of care establishes an orchard of goodness, a perpetually replenishing garden of love.
In this season of self-reflection, hard work, and planting the seeds of a new year, may each of us find a blessing in our harvests, and someone with which to share the fruits of our labor.