Parashat Ki Tavo
Is God a Crazed Soccer Mom?
Years ago, I read an article in one of those on-flight magazines about a town in Virginia, a “Soccer Town,” where the local culture was one in which youth soccer was taken very, very seriously. Of course, there were many benefits to this, including the teaching of important values of teamwork, cooperation, camaraderie, and humility.
At the same time, things were blown out of proportion. Parents and children traveled two hours each day to games, competitiveness was on overdrive, there were numerous divisions and rankings, and each team (of grade schoolers!) had professional coaches. It became a culture symbolized in part by the proverbial soccer mom, but crazed exponentially.
While I find it hard to believe that I would fall victim to this level of loss of perspective, I understand it. Losing perspective is something we, as people, can do. Sometimes, we blow things out of proportion.
What is strange about Parashat Ki Tavo is that it seems to present God as losing it, blowing things out of proportion—not unlike the stereotypical crazed Virginia soccer mom.
We read this week about the ceremony of the first fruits, the Bikkurim: How a farmer takes the first fruit of the season—even a single fig-- up to Jerusalem, recites a concise but moving text placing himself in the context of Jewish history and destiny and the Jewish people’s relationship to God, and rejoices before God in Jerusalem.
Considering this ceremony is all about one piece of fruit, it seems out of proportion. To get a sense of how much so, contrast it with tithing, Ma’aser, when we give ten percent of our crops to the Levites or to the poor. We give 10% of everything, but there’s no ceremony at all.
With a mitzvah demanding a whole to-do in Jerusalem over one fig, our Parasha seems to present God as taking everything out of proportion here, as having developed an obsession over a piece of fruit not unlike that which possessed that frenzied Virginia town.
Here’s an alternative suggestion to explain the big deal about one little first fruit in contrast to the lack of a big deal over tithing: Ma’aser, tithing, is about the past. We give our 10%, but we already have all of our crops for the year. We know we still have the other 90%, and we know how much that is.
By contrast, when we bring that first fruit to Jerusalem, we don’t know how many more fruits are coming in the rest of the season. Maybe it will be a small crop, or a bad crop. We’re celebrating, we’re giving from the first of what we have before we have anything else, before we know how much we’re going to ultimately get.
We give thanks and we rejoice regardless of what we will have.
Perhaps there is some attitudinal guidance here, as we approach Rosh Hashanah and peer into the impenetrable obscurity of the upcoming year: The future is uncertain. It might not be what we want or hope to get from it. It might even, God forbid, bring tragedy and loss. But that cannot deter us from a certain type of faith that enables us to rejoice before God. Bringing the Bikkurim is designed not to give us faith that the future will be bright—it very well might not be—but to cultivate the type of faith by which we see the holiness and the joy in what we do have, whatever that might be.