Being a part of a community is so much more than simply belonging. We are tasked to actively engage in that relationship, to build and maintain it. The means through which we engage is the covenant that we establish not only with God, but also with ourselves. We are tasked to remember our covenant, that awesome relationship with God. Yet what exactly does that mean, to remember it? Surely the command should be to live it, to practice it?
We have a powerful example in this week’s Parasha, Ki Tavo, about how our ancestors saw this process. In the Declaration of the First Fruits, each member at some point was commanded to bring their First Fruit to the priest and donate it to God. What is most interesting however, are the words the farmer is commanded to say:
I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us. (Deut 26:3)
The farmer will then continue:
My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meagre numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and populous nation…The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents…Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me. (Deut 26:5–10)
Through this process, that person would be recalling the covenant with God, remembering the times in Egypt, with our ancestors there during slavery and redemption, and God’s promise of redemption. The act of donating the fruit was secondary to retelling our story. It was not simply a passive activity, but one where practically each and every member of society had to participate. Furthermore, it was not simply a recitation of a few lines, but one that had to be done in company of other people, namely the Priests. The only mention of the fruit is the in the last line. The story, our story, is the focus. Each and every thing we do is predicated on remembering the primacy of community, our shared history, and commitment to strengthening the bonds with one another.
Recalling that special relationship with God was an important act, commanded to all and not to be done in isolation. We see this even today, in ways that recall our special relationship with God, such as at the Seder and now during the High Holy Days. We are commanded to interact with one another, while acting in the bond with God. In a culture where originally all was passed down orally, telling our story and performing specific actions were key ingredients in keeping the traditions alive. How much more so today where, even though things may be written, we are still called upon to recall our story and to act. The First Fruits was something all were expected to do, as most were involved in the agrarian portion of society. Today, we are all expected to interact with our covenant with one another, because there is no other way to sustain that relationship other than through cooperation.
We are community because we act together, not simply because we happen to belong to the same institution. The model of the First Fruits is key to understanding our faith. The actions we perform only have a transformative aspect when they are seen in the context of our history.
May this season of preparation continue to enhance the bonds between us and our community.