Ki Tavo 5761
September 7th-8th, 2001
20 Elul, 5761
It's a shame we can't fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim (first fruits) at the
present time, without our Temple. By all accounts, it was a most
beautiful and inspiring national institution.
Details of the mitzvah are
described at the outset of this week's parsha
(Chapter 26: verses 1-11).
After the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, and apportioned it
among the 12 tribes (according to instructions recorded at the end of the
Book of Numbers), we were commanded to bring each year a portion of newly
ripened fruits and grains to the Temple in Jerusalem. There, each
individual farmer would present his "first fruits" to a Kohen,
and recite a moving declaration of gratitude to the Almighty for bringing
the Jewish people out from bondage in Egypt to freedom in a land
"flowing with milk and honey." (This declaration, beginning with
"An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather," has been
incorporated in the Haggadah that we recite at the Seder each Pesach--the
consummate festival of gratitude!)
The Torah specifically
instructs us to observe this commandment of Bikurim in a celebratory
fashion: "You shall rejoice with al the goodness that Hashem, your
G-d, has given you and your household-you and the Levite and the proselyte
who is in your midst" (verse 11; Artscroll translation).
The Talmud even specifies that
the rejoicing should include song--and, so, the Levites would chant a
psalm of thanksgiving as the bearers of the first fruits entered the
Here is how Rabbi
Samson Raphael Hirsch (drawing from the Oral Law) describes this
splendid mitzvah in his commentary on the Torah (Deuteronomy, pp. 536-7):
"As a rule, the
Bikkurim were not brought up by single individuals alone. All the
people of the cities belonging to a district assembled in the county
town, [and] remained over night in the open places of the town…At
daybreak, the leader called out, 'Up, let us go up to Zion, to the House
of our G-d!' The procession was led by a fife band and a steer for a
shelamim, an offering of a meal of peace [consumed in the Temple], its
horns gilded and crowned with a wreath of olive leaves, until it reached
the outskirts of Jerusalem.
When they arrived there,
they sent into the town to announce their arrival, and in the interval
adorned their baskets of Bikurim fruit. The President of the
Temple, assistants, and administrators went out to meet and receive
them, the number of these varying according to the size of the arriving
parties. All the workmen and artisans in Jerusalem stopped work,
even that which they were duty-bound to attend to, to shout the
greeting: 'Brother from such-and-such a city, peace be unto you!' The
fifes continued to lead the procession until they reach the Temple
Mount. Arrived there, every one, even the King himself, took the
basket on his shoulder and entered the ante-chamber of the Temple.
There, the Levites began to sing Psalm 30, 'I will exalt You,
Hashem, for You have lifted me up, and you have not allowed my enemies
to rejoice over me.'"
Reading this account, we can
well understand why many sources cite Bikurim as a prime example of the
noble practice (and obligation) of "hidur mitzvah," beautifying
and adorning the commandments of the Torah. No simple schlepping of
produce to the capital here! Rather, a stately procession, and an
inspiring communal expression of joy and gratitude--even as each
individual fulfilled his own personal obligation.
Until the Temple is rebuilt (with the coming of Moshiach),
we'll have to console ourselves with reading about this mitzvah. We
can study the tractate, Bikurim, which is part of the order of Mishna
(Oral Law) that deals with agricultural laws pertaining to the land of
Israel. We can also, of course, internalize the beautiful basic
lesson of gratitude for the blessings G-d has given us, individually and
collectively--a recurring motif throughout the Torah. Thanking G-d
for the gift of the (embattled) Land of Israel--and praying for the
welfare of the Jews there--is especially appropriate at the present time,
I would think.
But there is more as well. The S'fas
Emes cites a statement of the Midrash Tanchuma which explains that
when Moshe saw (prophetically) that the mitzvah of bikurim would one day
cease to be fulfilled, he formally established the practice of praying
three times a day. This does not mean, of course, that he wrote the
actual text of the various blessings we say now, for we know those were
composed by the individuals of the Great Assembly a millennium after
Moshe's time. But, in some sense, he formalized the
three-times-a-day formula for tuning into G-d.
What's the connection between
Bikurim and daily prayer? The S'fas Emes explains the inner essence
of bikurim: by offering the "first" to G-d (as, for example,
first fruits), one thereby connects all that comes afterward to its
spiritual root, and thus brings down G-d's blessing on it. And that,
in turn, leads to joy--for joy is the result of being connected to one's
This can be understood, in
part, at the psychological level. If the first part of any endeavor
is sanctified, dedicated to a higher purpose (connecting to G-d), then
one's thoughts and intentions are set on a "holy" trajectory.
The rest of that endeavor is then likely to remain "elevated."
The three prayer services are linked to three periods of our daily life:
morning, afternoon and evening. By dedicating the first part to G-d,
the whole period becomes sanctified. This concept is most
appropriate in relation to the morning prayer service. The first portion
of our waking hours is given over to G-d in prayer, and it becomes the
"first fruit" offering of our whole day! We can then
connect everything in our working day that follows to that inspiration and
sense of newness (spiritual and physical) we experienced at its start.
(Until, of course, we need a new dose of prayer-inspiration for the
next phase of the day.)
We may not be able to bring
the bikurim to the Temple nowadays, but we can certainly make a procession
to synagogue for morning services and humbly offer up our first words and
thoughts of the day to G-d. (You can keep your first cup of coffee
for yourself, though…especially if it will help you get to shul!) Even
without a fife band and a festooned steer accompanying you, you'll be
inspired by your first-fruit offering each day. Just try it, and see.
Into Genesis |
Insights Into Exodus | Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers | Insights
Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
Produced and distributed by
the Ben Portman Computer facilities of the Savannah Kollel.
This Dvar Torah page created and hosted
courtesy of OU.ORG. No responsibility for its contents may be
implied or taken by the OU.