Meaning in Mitzvot by Asher Meir
Each week we will discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on the commentary "Meaning in Mitzvot" on the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh. You can subscribe by visiting Yeshivat Har Etzion's "Virtual Beit Midrash", www.vbm-torah.org.
This Shabbat is Tu BeShevat, Rosh HaShanah for fruit trees. Fruit trees need a Rosh HaShanah in order to demarcate crop years for trumah ("elevation") and maasarot (tithes). The Torah commands us to tithe "year by year" (Devarim 14:22) teaching that we may take tithes only from produce of the same year (Sifri). An individual fruit which is formed before Tu BeShavat belongs to the previous year (5759); one formed after belongs to the current year (5760). The identical rule applies to trumah - a small part of the crop (approx. 2% - PC) which is separated and sanctified to HaShem, and afterwards given to a Kohen.
This same-year rule is only one of many laws which require that the little bit of fruit we separate out as trumah starts out as an integral part of the produce which is being rectified. All of these rules ensure that trumah, which is referred to in the Torah as "the first of your crop" (Devarim 18:4), is indeed of the crop. In other words, trumah passes through two stages: first belonging to the crop as a whole, and afterwards separation and elevation from the crop, leading to rectification - rendering the remainder permissible.
Here are some other rules which contribute to the idea of "belonging": The trumah must be only some of the produce, so that there is an associated part left behind (Eruvin 37b); the trumah must be of the same species (Trumot 1:5), and should be in the same container (Challah 1:9), from the same stage of production (Trumot1:10), and in the same state of purity (Trumot 2:1 and 2:2).
Challah, a small amount of dough removed to make the loaf permissible, is also a kind of trumah, and the Torah calls it the "first of your kneading-trough" (Bamidbar 15:20). Not surprisingly, parallel requirements ensure that the stages of belonging, followed by separation and elevation, apply to challah as well. (Remnant:SA YD 322:1; same dating or species sometimes required: 324:4-8; same place and same purity: 323.)
These laws have a profound symbolism. The Torah calls these gifts "reshit", first, and "trumah", elevation. Their basic message is that the first, and best, of what we enjoy should be elevated, sanctified, and set aside for HaShem. Only after we have carefully acknowledged HaShem as the Source of our sustenance are we allowed to enjoy it. (Berakhot 35a says that all food is considered sanctified until a blessing is said; this analogy has a similar message.)
An additional message is learned from the requirement of "belonging". Making this reshit start out as part and parcel of the food emphasizes that holiness doesn't belong to some alien realm, far away from everyday reality. On the contrary, sanctification must begin as an integral part of ordinary mundane existence.
The Midrash calls Adam "The challah of the world" (Bereshit Rabbah on Bereshit 2:21). Just as the little bit of challah separated is endowed with a special holiness, HaShem endowed Adam with holiness by breathing a divine spirit into him. But this separation and elevation of man was preceded by the stage of belonging to the material world - Adam was made from the dust of the earth. (Bereshit 2:7.) Like the challah's rectification of the whole loaf, man's ability to redeem the whole world through his spiritual separation and elevation is dependent on this prior stage of belonging.
The Torah is also called "reshit", as are the Jewish people (Rashi on Bereshit 1:1). Israel, acting according to Torah, will ultimately redeem the entire world of material existence - but only because we belong in the material world. As in the mitzvot of trumah and challah, the aspect of intimate belonging is what enables the subsequent stages of separation, sanctification, and rectification.
Rabbi Asher Meir is in the process of writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. Rabbi Meir - who has given a series on Business Halacha at the Center, as well as three sessions of Meaning in Mitzvot - the Shiur. He will, IY"H, be continuing the series on a regular basis. See back page for details.