The Fruits of the Past, Present, and Future
As I searched for real-world meanings in this week’s Torah reading of Ki Seitze — which deals with Jews going to war against their enemies — and the following parsha of Ki Tasvo, describing their entry into the Promised Land and the commandment to bring their first fruits to the Temple, I was overcome with a rush of emotion.
These ancient words written thousands of years ago are still relevant and moving today, and the juxtaposition of these two parshas crackles with power. The Jewish people refused to succumb to our tormentors’ oppression — and rather than being crippled by victimhood, we propelled ourselves forward to reclaim the land of Israel and reap its harvests. Our bountiful crop was borne of the thousands of years that preceded it.
In ancient days, when the new fruits were brought to Jerusalem, they were tenderly secured in the farmer’s simple basket. He hugged that basket with a tenacious and grateful embrace. The farmer had journeyed by foot to Jerusalem to offer a thanksgiving prayer, which brought to life his people’s past, present, and future.
So why do I draw so much personal relevance from these two parshas? Just this week, my daughter Chaya gave birth to a healthy baby boy. And as I cradled my grandson, I too thought of what it took for me to experience these magnificent first fruits.
The first words of Parsha Ki Seitze reverberated in my mind: Ki seitze lamilchamaha al ohvecho — “When you will go out to war on your enemy.” But applied to our family, I interpret this as “When you surmount your enemy.”
On April 11, 1945, my father, of blessed memory, was liberated by American forces from the Halberstadt concentration camp. Just 17 years old, he lay on a pile of straw and literally had no strength to get up. Malnourished, suffering with beriberi, and now orphaned, he confronted an existential question: Is life really worth continuing?
It would have been so much easier for my father to concede defeat, and end his journey onward. But instead, he dedicated himself to surmounting what the Nazi beasts had done to his family. He resolved to be the victor. He was on a journey to bring his first fruits to Jerusalem.
With the birth of my latest grandchild, my father’s triumph over enemies and his dedication to bringing his first fruits to Jerusalem that began 73 years ago continues on.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann is the Chabad emissary in Columbus, Ohio.