Plant Fruit Trees in Israel

Could it be that the harder a mitzva is to perform, the greater its reward may be?

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Ki Tavo” (Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8) and in it we read about the “Bikkurim,” the offering of the first fruits.

Farmers were obligated to bring their first fruits to the Holy Temple each year and present them to the Kohen, the priest. It was a type of support, a charitable donation, for the Priests who ran the Temple and really didn’t have any of their own income to support themselves.

When the farmers did so, they would recite a special declaration, as it says “You shall come to the Kohen who will be in those days and you shall say to him, ‘I declare today that I have come to the land that God swore to our forefathers to give us….’”

The commentators ask: what does the verse mean when it says that one goes to the Kohen “who will be in those days”? Of course, it must be the Kohen of the day! Who else would the farmer give his fruit to? A deceased Kohen?!

There is a similar comment regarding the mitzvah to take lawsuits to the rabbinic judges. It says “You shall come to the judge who will be in those days…” Say the commentators: “This is true even if he is not like the other judges who were before him, you must listen to him. You have none but the judge who is in your days.”

The common denominator in both such examples is that even if the needed individual (the Kohen or the judge) is not an impressive person, even if he is not as great as the one who held the office before him, and even if you don’t like him – he’s the one with the job and you’ve got to respect him. He may not be as pious or as learned – but he’s got the job.

Jewish philosophy recognizes very strongly that we are not as great as those who preceded us. This is a concept called “yeridat hadorot.” But, as the commentators teach us, we have to deal with what we’ve got.

Whether it is an act of charity or our need for rabbinical guidance (the judge) – we face such dilemmas even nowadays when it comes to acts of kindness.

Let’s take the mitzva of hospitality. Who would you rather have as a guest in your house? A nice, refined, clean, well-dressed, perfumed person? Or a street person who hasn’t showered in weeks, whose clothes are ripped, and who doesn’t have the best table manners?

Our gut feeling is certainly to prefer the refined individual. But sometimes, the bigger mitzva is to host the street person.

And so it is with the Kohen or the judge – even if they are not as appealing to us as we’d like, we still have to be the best we can be and do what the Torah wants us to do. Give charity to those who may not truly deserve it. Be nice to those whom you may not like. Show kindness to those who don’t deserve any.

The less enjoyable the mitzva is, the greater it’s reward might be!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.