Ki Tavo – The Prayer when bringing the first fruits
This parasha begins by presenting the prayer that the Hebrew farmer should say when offering to God the first fruits (bikurim) that were grown in his field (Deuteronomy 26: 5-10).
From Shavuot to Sukkot, the Hebrew farmer in ancient Israel had to pay attention to the cultivation of his farmstead. When observing the first sprouting of the crops with which the land of Israel was blessed (Deuteronomy 8:8), he had to identify them and, once mature, place them in a basket and bring them to the Temple of Jerusalem. Once he was there, he had to present the basket to the priest to place on the altar while the farmer recited this prayer before God.
The prayer consists of three parts. In the first one, the beginning of the gestation of the Hebrew people is remembered with the words: Our father was a wandering Aramean. According to Rashbam, this can be understood as referring to Abraham, who was born in Ur of Chaldea. Alternatively, Rashi relates it to Jacob, who escaped from there for fear of his brother Esau. The second part of the prayer refers to the Hebrews’ settling in Egypt to escape famine, the slavery they suffered there, and the liberation that God brought about. The third part focuses on the land of Israel.
Many meanings can be discovered in this prayer. The farmer should keep in mind the misadventures of his ancestors, their difficult path to achieve freedom, and the importance of having his own land and building on it a society in which justice and mercy shape the actions of all who inhabit it. This prayer, in the words of Maimonides (Guide of the Perplexed, part III, chap. 39) is intended to educate the farmer who proclaims it, so that the richness of the land’s fruits does not feed any arrogance.
Possessions often puff up those who have them in abundance, leading them to quickly forget who their real Maker is. Remembering the misadventures of their ancestors while living on and cultivating the land they own would prevent the Hebrews from becoming arrogant and egotistical.
It is a prayer from the past that fittingly belongs to the weekly reading of the Torah near the New Year. These are the days for reviewing our actions during the past year, assessing if they were characterized by any arrogance, self-conceit, or selfishness.