"My ancestor was a wandering Aramean,
Who went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there But there he became a great and very populous nation
The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us.
We cried out to the Eternal, our God of our ancestors,
And the Eternal heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.
God freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm
With awesome power, and by signs and portents,
Bringing us to this place and giving us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
And now, I bring my first fruits of the soil, that same soil that You, Eternal our God, has given to me."
This passage from Ki Tavo also appears in our Passover seder. It is a ritual retelling of the Exodus from Egypt, traveling from slavery to freedom, from working the land under harsh conditions to thriving on our own land. For this redemptive transformation, we offer blessings of gratitude.
Each year, our ancestors dedicated their first fruits to God "in thanks for the fertility that yielded the produce - and with the hope that this fertility [would] continue," (Adele Berlin, "The Torah: A Women's Commentary"). This poetic liturgy also acknowledges God's role in giving the people the land that enabled them to grow fruits in the first place.
Each year, my family and I sign up for a farm share (where a portion of a farm's produce is purchased up front, before it is grown each season, in exchange for boxes of seasonal produce throughout the farming season) in our local community. We love the chance to support our local farmers and introduce more fresh vegetables into our meals. Community-supported agriculture is also an excellent way to reduce our carbon footprint since the produce does not need to travel nearly as far to reach our dinner tables.
The first week of our farm share pickup, the volunteer handed me a tomato seedling. "We hope you'll enjoy planting at home this season," she said with a smile. Together with our two young children, we planted the cherry tomato plant by our front door. My two-year-old daughter has devoted herself to watering the tomato plant each day. As the yellow flowers that preceded the growth of green tomatoes appeared, she counted each bloom and sang garden songs.
So far, we have harvested a total of one tomato. That first fruit was absolutely delicious, and we hope a few more of the green tomatoes will ripen in the next few weeks.
In 2023, my family recognizes that we are privileged to be able to buy tomatoes from the grocery store or farm stand if our own crops do not turn out. For us, growing our own tomatoes was something fun to do together. For our ancestors, their first fruits were everything. They represented sustenance, health, and their livelihoods. We are far removed from that mentality as we stand on the cusp of the year 5784. However, when we read the words from our Torah that chronicle our journey to freedom and farming our own land, we can see the simple power of expressing gratitude for God's gifts: life, food, and freedom .
The first fruits capture that same sense of what is possible at a new beginning. As we read about the first fruits and prepare ourselves for a new year, we also see the potential before us.
The British-American poet, Ruth Fainlight, wrote a poem about the wandering Aramean:
"Nothing ever happens more than once.
The next time is never like before.
What you thought you learned doesn't apply.
Something is different. And just as real.
For which you might be thankful after all."
As we enter a new Jewish year, we are on the threshold of a new season. There is uncertainty. We do not know how our efforts will turn out. Our crops might fail. It might rain too much. It might be too dry. Despite our best efforts, squirrels, birds, and rabbits might eat what we try to grow.
Yet there is a certain gift in knowing that the new year is approaching. Maybe our tomatoes will surprise us. Maybe 5784 will surprise us, too. Let us be open to the possibility that we will be granted innumerable blessings and arrive at a land flowing with milk and honey. We will drink from that sweet cup together in celebration.