Bringing one’s first fruits cannot be an easy task. Considering the years of work that go into plowing, planting and cultivating, it must be difficult to sacrifice the final product. And yet, we are not only commanded to bring them to the Temple, but to rejoice in it.
During this process, we recite a lengthy message of how we properly conducted the harvest. At one point, we say: I have not transgressed any of Your commandments, nor did I forget (Devarim 26:13). It would seem somewhat redundant to say “I did not forget” any of the commandments once we just said that we kept the commandments. What is it adding?
The Rabbis tell us that “I did not forget” is not referring to the commandments, but that we made the proper blessing. But how does “I did not forget” connote a blessing?
We may remember the classic tale of “The Giving Tree”, by Shel Silverstein. It tells the story of a boy who loves a tree, and the tree loves being with him. After childhood, the boy slowly begins to neglect the tree with which he loved to play. Nonetheless, the tree’s happiness never wanes. Whenever the boy returns, the tree is happy to provide for him- no longer with apples and leaves, but with its own branches and body. The neglect ultimately leads to sadness, until the boy is so old all he needs is to sit, which he does, on the tree.
What is a blessing? Blessings are statements that help us contextualize the act of a commandment within our relationship with Gd. Before we do anything, we recognize and appreciate why we are doing it. Sometimes our observance of the laws gets in the way of recognizing the bigger picture: That the commandments are simply mediums towards a loving relationship with our Creator.
SO what is the verse adding when it says “I did not forget”? Unlike the boy -who reaps the benefits but forgets the provider- we do the commandments, but still remember why: to build our relationship. “I did not forget” means we are cherishing the acts as part of our relationship, the purpose of a blessing. We do not simply take our produce, keep the laws, and forget why we do it. When it comes to Jewish boys and girls, the tree may be giving, but we’re also giving back.