If you wander around the blogs these days, you will see that “decluttering” is a hot issue. Not to purchase more than one needs, eliminate that which you don’t need: less is more. In decorating, of course, it makes good sense. And we all know it’s much easier to clean up a house with fewer objects to pick up, put away, clean around. Decluttering is a way of isolating that which is truly important and creating satisfaction from knowing that what you have is necessary.
Parashat Ki Tavo brings up the issue of shefa– having too much – in an almost backhanded way.
והיה כי-תבוא אל-הארץ אשר ה’ אלקיך נתן לך נחלה וירתה וישבת בה: ולרחת מראשית כל-פרי האדמה אשר תביא מארצך אשר ה’ אלקיך נתן לך ושמת בטנא והלכת אל-מקום אשר יבחר ה’ אלקיך לשכן שמו שם:
It will be when you enter the Land that Hashem, your G-d. give you as an inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell in it, that you shall take the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem, your G-d, will choose, to make His Name rest there. (Deut.26.1-2)
Not everyone owns a fruit tree, but those who do will recognize this situation. The first fruits – the very first lemon to ripen, the first mango, the first apple, the first perfect apricot or peach or tangerine- It’s mouth watering because it’s the first. It’s valued far more than everything that follows. We’ve waited for this! Well, you know what happens next. You bring them into the office, you send the kids around to the neighbors (who smile but won’t take any because of course they have their own over-loaded trees). The waste is what bothers us – it’s so wonderful – how can we have so much that we can’t even give it away? And remember – we are talking about a single tree.
Imagine a whole orchard – imagine a whole Land – a country filled with trees – producing more than anyone can possibly use. So then comes the calculation – how can we store it, sell it further afield , somehow make it rare in order to keep the prices high? Abundance causes its own problems. Eventually someone is going to see that you have a pretty good thing going on over there – he won’t be happy for you to scoop up all the profits in that particular market – he will do his best to take away at least some of your market share. Suddenly abundance has become a threat.
This parasha offers two insights: First, bring the first fruits as a sacrifice, acknowledging that abundance doesn’t come from nothing. Neither luck or good agricultural practice creates wealth and abundance. Every generation has a responsibility to remember the suffering of former generations. But also to know that remembrance alone will not retain our hold on the Land. We have to act like owners, rather than “asking permission” from the other nations to till that which is ours. Our forefather’s meticulous adherence to halacha earned the right to possess the Land, that we would know G-d as a people, as a nation. If we are any less accurate and meticulous in faith, we will not be rewarded with the excess wealth that enables us to sell our produce abroad, marketing that which is ours to the nations of the world.
The second insight in Ki Tavo is that it relates the bringing of first fruits to the fact that B’nei Yaakov left the Land as an extended family, but came out of Egypt as a whole nation. It’s like the difference between the produce of a single tree – and a whole country full of trees. If you have just one tree, you can enjoy a seasonal bonus. But it won’t support or sustain you for the long run.