2 Minutes of Torah Study – Ki Tavo

Sacrifices? Again? Didn’t we already finish the book of Leviticus? Before you let your eyes glaze over, let me show you why this passage in Ki Tavo is one of the most interesting you will ever see.

Deuteronomy 26:2-5

“You shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land…put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name. …The priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. You shall then recite as follows: My father was a wandering Aramean…”

Great. Pick your produce, put it in a basket, bring it to the Temple in Jerusalem — which they couldn’t actually say directly to maintain the narrative fiction that the Temple didn’t exist yet — and then recite this specific formula. Fine. But what if you couldn’t read?

The Mishnah, the rabbinic document of about the year 200, has a creative solution to this problem. They say:

Mishnah Bikkurim 3:7

Beforetime all that could recite [the prescribed words] recited them, and all that could not recite them repeated [after the priest]; but when these refrained from bringing [their first fruits] it was ordained that both they that could recite them and they that could not should repeat the words [after the priest].

Those who could recite the formula recited the formula, those who couldn’t repeated those words after the priest. Except now we have singled out those who are unlearned…and they simply ceased to come. The priests quickly changed their tune, ordaining that EVERYONE would recite the formula after them, lest anyone feel shame. 

Jewish tradition is not — and has not been — an inflexible, rigid system of law but rather a blueprint for living a more moral, uplifted, God-like life. It has and continues to respond to the realities of our contemporary situation, accepting us for who we are while pushing us towards who we must become.