Parshat Ki Tavo – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
Our parsha opens with the mitzvah of Bikurim, an agricultural mitzvah unique to Eretz Israel, which entails bringing the first fruits of our agricultural labors to Beit HaMikdash. "And you will take from the first of every fruit which you will bring from your land, which the Lord your G-d gives you, and you will put them in a basket, and you will go to the place which the Lord your G-d will choose to make His name dwell there." (Devarim 26:1)
Immediately following are the mitzvot of Biur Maasrot and Vidui Maasrot, which complete our obligation to separate from the produce of the field those parts which we must give to the Cohen, the Levi and the poor, or to bring up to Jerusalem.
Further in the parsha are the blessings and the curses, where great emphasis is placed on the strategic aspects of agriculture. The blessings, merited by keeping the Torah, will be economic abundance that will come to the nation, mainly in the form of agricultural plenty: "Blessed will be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land…blessed will be your basket and your kneading bowl...G-d will command the blessing upon your storehouse and all you that put hour hand to, and will bless you in the Land…" (Devarim 28:3-8) The blessing will also come by way of blessed rains: "G-d will open for you His good treasure, the sky, to give the rain of your land in time and to bless all the work of your hand…"(Devarim 28:12)
And the curses, as punishment for not keeping the Torah, damage the strategic factors of the nation's existence, primarily agricultural produce: "Cursed you will be in the city and cursed you will be in the field. Cursed will be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land." (Devarim 28:17) The Torah warns of a death-blow to agriculture by pests: "G-d will strike you with tuberculosis, with fever…with the black blight and the yellow blight…You will bring much seed to the field and collect little because the locust will decimate it…you will plant vineyards and work them, and will not drink wine or harvest them because the worm will devour it. You will have olive trees in all your borders but will not use their oil because the olives will drop off. All your trees and fruits of your land will be stricken by the cricket. (Devarim 28 :22-42) And an additional hard strategic blow to agriculture: the farmers won't be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor because the produce will fall to the enemy: "The fruit of your land and all your labors will be eaten by a nation which you don't know…G-d will bring upon you a nation from far away, from the end of the earth…and will eat the fruit of your flocks and the fruit of your land, until you will be destroyed, and will not leave you grain, wine or oil.." This principle is repeated daily in the parsha "VeHaya im shamoa."
Since the dawn of history, agriculture has been one of the key factors of human existence. It is the major source of food for private households, as well as at the national strategic level. It put in motion the wheels of economy of local and international markets. The increase of agricultural production made possible an increase in the world population. Over the years, the percentage of agricultural produce as part of gross national product worldwide is decreasing in comparison to new fields of industry and high-tech. Nevertheless, it still represents the source of employment and income for a very high percentage of the world's population, more than any other industry (about 40%).
In the era of high-tech, agriculture is another field that invites new and creative technological development, to improve the effectiveness of the produce, cope with scarcity of water, combat pests and develop new varieties of crops.
Agriculture has additional effects on national strategy. "The concept 'Israel' includes everything: the physical, external side: economy and agriculture, army and security, society and all the other things pertaining to Israeli nationhood…" (Sichot HaRav Zvi Yehudah Kook, parshat Devarim 5733)
The working of the land creates a powerful connection of man to his land, a form of putting down deep and strong roots. The farmer develops an interactive relationship with the land. He tends to it and utilizes its resources wisely. Agriculture conserves the national reserves of land across the country. Agriculture in border areas often acts as a security factor, in the spirit of Trumpeldor's slogan: "Where the plow will pass, there the border will pass."
Additionally, Jewish agriculture has a unique dimension: "Agriculture of all the nations is only a necessary and simple economic force, but the nation which its entire subject is the Holy of Holies, and its land, and its language, and all its values are all holy, since it in its entirety fill the holy expression of all of mankind and all of creation. And in every place, holy elixir-light, radiating blessing, are only branches of the trunk of its planting. So all of its agriculture as well is permeated with holiness." (Rav Kook, Ma'amarei HaRaya, part 1, page 179)
The special holiness of Eretz Israel is expressed in several forms: in the holiness of its fruits and the mitzvot specific to the land, in the obligation to let the land rest during Shemittah, and in the mitzvah to grow "and bring out its holy fruits." (Chatam Sofer on Succah) "It is proper to say that all the three festivals correspond to the agricultural reality in Eretz Israel. Thus are their names in the Torah: The Festival of the Spring, the Festival of Harvesting and the Festival of Gathering. The actual, tangible, public agriculturality of Am Israel in Eretz Israel is entirely holy. There is a correlation and unity, of the agricultural circumstance in Eretz Israel, and the very essence of these holy days." (HaRav Zvi Yehudah Kook, "Mitoch HaTorah HaGoelet, part 4 ch.2) The parsha of the curses, and the blow to agriculture, as punishment for Am Israel's sins, is the result of defectiveness in the holiness that is supposed to be expressed by the bringing out of its holy fruits.
The sanctified importance of agriculture in Israel may be the reason that the Torah emphasized the fact that the "occupation" of the nation's fathers was agriculture!