Delivered for Milk and Honey Shabbat at Burning Man
This week’s Torah portion is called Ki Tavo, from the book of Deuteronomy. It takes place after Jewish farmers have settled in the land of Israel and begun a yearly cycle of growth and harvest. Ki Tavo introduces the concept of tithing (whereby God commands the Jews to give away 10% of their harvest to those in need) along with a ritual of offering bikkurim, or “first fruits.” In giving away the first fruits of their harvest, the Jews are instructed to go to the temple and express gratitude to God for bringing them to the land of Milk & Honey.
The first fruits of the harvest. In other words, the Jews have been toiling in the hot, hot desert for months, and when they finally pull something juicy and delicious from the ground, instead of eating it, they’re supposed to put it in a basket and give it away? Sounds a little meshugga, no?
As I see it, tithing and offering bikurim are radical declarations of faith. Relinquishing the first good thing that comes our way after a period of scarcity means trusting that the world is essentially good. It’s a gesture that suggests that there is enough: more fruit is coming. That gifting will not leave us deprived and starving, but rather will come back to us tenfold…. Is this ringing a bell?
At Burning Man, we show up each year believing that despite the elements, we will not only survive, we will thrive. That no matter how much dust we swallow or how fucked our burn gets, the Playa will provide and we will come out alive—maybe even happier, truer versions of ourselves. As such, we give away gifts of all shapes and sizes, knowing our well-being in this dusty desert is ensured by the cyclical flow of abundance that we fuel with our generosity. By gifting, we are staking our claim that we too, deserve to receive.
Is it not an amazing thing to witness what’s created when an entire tribe chooses to believe our needs will be met, our boundaries respected, and our dreams fulfilled? Rather than asking ourselves “How do I get mine and protect my own?” we begin to ask ourselves a new question: “How can I help? What can I give away? How can I make someone else’s dream an immediate reality?”
This shift in mindset has a ripple effect. Not only do we feel more joyful, but we also create joy in others. When we believe that the next person we meet is going to be kind to us, we begin to build a world based not on greed and deprivation, but on love and generosity.
So, we see that it’s good to give away first fruits. But that’s not to say it’s always easy. Here on Playa, we burn a temple filled with our most sacred fruits: stories, trinkets, images of loved ones who’ve passed on. When the flames rise up to consume whatever we’ve built and come to rely on as a given, we’re faced with primal fear of nothingness… which can be scary. The question remains: will something of worth return to fill the void?
I want to leave us with this to chew on: nothing is forever. Whether we choose to give away our first fruits with generosity and joy or resistance and struggle, is the only part that’s really up to us. As we watch the flames consume our beloved tokens and memories, we must choose to have faith that something rich will grow back from the ashes, and the wisdom to recognize that much of it was facade (and not serving us) anyway…
In closing, I would like to wish us all an incendiary burn, the courage to be generous—even in hard times, and a very, very fruitful Shabbat Shalom.