April Akiva, R.J.E.
In this week’s parashah, Ki Tavo, Moses commands the Israelites to take the first fruits of their harvest and offer them to God. He instructs:
You should take some of every first fruit of the soil…You shall leave it before the Lord your God and bow low before the Lord your God. And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you and your household (Deut. 26:2;11).
Why are the Israelites instructed to take the “first” fruit? After toiling in the land, shouldn’t a farmer be the first to reap the benefits of his harvest? According to Maimonides, the “first fruits” are the best and must be used to perform mitzvot. The best and most beautiful of anything should be set aside for God and holy acts. Maimonides explains,
When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table. When one clothes the naked, he should clothe him with the finest of his clothes. Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possessions; as it is written (Leviticus 3:16), “The choicest to G-d.”
A few times a year I collect unused belongings from my home to donate to Good Will and I find myself questioning whether what I am doing is really mitzvah. On the one hand, my goods will provide something of value to someone who has nothing. On the other hand, how am I really practicing loving kindness by giving someone something I would consider to be garbage? As I perform this “mitzvah,” a small part of me feels guilty. The parashah pushes us to ask ourselves the following questions:
If I want to treat all humans, created in the image of God, well, how can I make a mitzvah more beautiful and filled with value?
How can I honor others the way I would want to be honored?