Gathering the first fruit

By Ben Kamin

Rabbi Ben Kamin

SAN DIEGO — One of the most powerful men in history once told his people that they really ought to fill up a basket with their best fruit and bring it to the priest. In fact, this is what Moses instructed the Hebrews to do when they settled in the land that was promised to them.  Before war.  Before divvying up property, spoils, and before getting drunk with invasion and dominion.

Folks in the Jewish community are reading about this specifically this week, as we make our way through the closing chapters of Deuteronomy, in preparation for the new religious year. Moses is gathering his loins, reviewing the history of the Hebrew wanderings in the desert, declaiming the principal values of the new nation—for all civilizations to record. “Go out into the orchards you plant,” the old rabbi tells them, “and gather some of your first fruits. Put them in a basket and bring them to the Temple and present them to the priest.”

Bring your first fruits? Put them into a basket? What effect does Moses think that will create for an emerging, young nation that would have to conquer Canaan, set up municipalities, create an infrastructure,  and—perhaps most difficultly—establish local and federal governments?

The best effect, I think. Just when men and women are consolidating power, rushing for territorial advantage, and trying to make money out of human need and government projects, that’s a very good time to go into the groves and pick some fresh fruit. It no doubt would soothe the senses, restore some equilibrium, relax some ambition, quiet some lust, and get the good scent of earth and citrus into the nostrils of greed.

Offering the first and best of your first harvest to a sanctuary where people gather in peace and prayer could mitigate a lot of future military and financial crises. It also might help save this earth in the long run—when trees and grasses and sky and water actually come before everything else.

Rabbi Kamin is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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