This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with the responsibility of the Israelites to bring an offering of first fruits (bikkurim) after they’ve entered the land of Israel. “He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O Lord, have given to me.” (26:9-10)
Fruit offerings were later replaced with prayers but the purpose and intention are the same. As my teacher, Diane Bloomfield of “Torah from Jerusalem” explains, each day is the potential for both the physical world and humans to renew through prayer and actions. Despite the darkness that shrouds much of the world, we are commanded by God, as caretakers of the world, to illuminate dark places through mitzvot (actions). Such behaviors enable us to connect more deeply to God and renew ourselves and the world.
A few sentences later is a commandment to farmers to tithe every third and sixth year. “You shall say before the Lord, your God, I have removed the holy [portion] from the house, and I have also given it to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, according to all Your commandment that You commanded me.” (26:12)
Commentary in Etz Chayim notes, “even though [the holy portion] is not brought to a sanctuary, it is to be treated as holy until it is handed over for distribution to the poor. Giving it to the poor is no less a sacred purpose than bringing it to the sanctuary ” (p. 1142).
I’ve written extensively on my blog about hunger in the US and Israel. Sixteen percent of all Israelis do not have regular food access. There are 49 million Americans–including 15.8 million children–who are hungry. John, a child in Michigan says, “It makes me feel sad that my parents sometimes feed us kids and not themselves.” Dylan, also a kid, explains, “We run out of food some months and I’ve gone days without sleep because of hunger.”
Beyond the shocking statistics, this is a humanitarian and spiritual problem. This Torah portion, as well as preparing for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, are opportunities for each of us to reflect upon our relationships with hungry people.
What is our responsibility to someone’s grandmother, child or father? Rabbi Lilly Kaufman, explains that Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, “believed that we are noticed by God when we transform our attitude toward needy people from anger to compassion. Our actions can even transform God.”
What simple, yet significant, acts can we each do to address this problem and thereby bring light to a very dark, serious problem? Financial donations to emergency relief charities are an effective way to support programming and to enable the purchase of the most appropriate, nutritious foods, in bulk. Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, has Rosh Hashana actions and materials for synagogues and homes. There are many organizations offering critical services in Israel–click here for a list.
As Rabbi Kaufman concludes, we can bring “our regular practice to care for the poor, whether in the Promised Land or wherever we live. Then we will be Your people, and You will be our God, in a real and compelling way.”
The dish I prepared this week is based on the offering of fruit trees and the land of milk and honey. Fruit trees are deep rooted into the land. They become integral to communities through their root systems and as perennials, are a reliable source of food. A land flowing with milk and honey is one that is illuminated with our acts of mitzvot.
While there were not any new fruits of the season yet at the farmers market, stone fruits are still in season. I chose peaches and nectarines. The baked fruit, topped with goat or non-dairy cheese and date syrup are symbolic of milk and honey. This delicious, sweet dish, is great as an appetizer or dessert.
Ki Tavo: Roasted Fruit with Milk and Honey
2-4 peaches and/or nectarines (if you are able to get apples, a new fruit of the season, I think they would also work well with this recipe)
2-4 tbsp goat or non-dairy cheese
1 tbsp date syrup
2 tbsp finely chopped toasted walnuts
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet or tray with parchment paper.
2. Wash fruit, cut in half and remove pits. Place on tray and put in oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft.
3. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Arrange fruit on a plate. Place 1/2-1 tbsp of goat cheese in each one (it depends on the size of the fruit). Sprinkle walnuts on top of each one. Drizzle each piece of fruit with date syrup.
It can be eaten warm or at room temperature.