“And you shall take from the first of all the fruit produced by your land that Hashem your G-d is giving you. And you should place it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to associate with His name.” (Devarim 26:2)
This pasuk introduces the mitzvah of Bikkurim. This mitzvah requires that the first fruit of the harvest be brought to Yerushalayim and presented to the Kohen. The mitzvah of Bikkurim does not come into effect until the land of Israel is conquered and settled.
Our pasuk indicates that the Bikkurim are to be brought to the place that the Almighty will associate with His name. What place fulfills this requirement? Certainly, the Bait HaMikdash satisfies this criterion. However, the Bait HaMikdash was built by King Shlomo. How was the mitzvah of Bikkurim fulfilled prior to the construction of the Bait HaMikdash? The Midrash Sifrei discusses this issue. In order to understand Sifrei’s response, some background information is required.
At Sinai Bnai Yisrael were commanded to build a Mishcan – the Tabernacle. This was a portable temple. During the travels in the wilderness, the Mishcan was the center for worship. All sacrifices were offered in the Tabernacle. When Bnai Yisrael entered the land of Israel, the Mishcan was not abandoned. It continued to function as the nation’s holy Temple. It retained this status until the Bait HaMikdash was constructed. The Mishcan was initially erected in Shilo. It was then moved to Nov. Later it was transferred to Givon.
Sifrei explains that Bikkurim were brought to the Mishcan only when it was situated in Shilo. However, once the Mishcan was transferred the mitzvah of Bikkurim was suspended. Performance of the commandment did not resume until the Bait HaMikdash was completed. In other words, as long as it was located in Shilo the Mishcan fulfilled the requirements of the mitzvah. Once the Tabernacle was transferred from Shilo it no longer satisfied the criterion of the commandment.
Why was the Mishcan only appropriate for the mitzvah of Bikkurim when it was at Shilo? Why did it lose its suitability when moved to Nov and then Givon?
Torah Temimah responds based upon a passage in the Navi. The Navi explains that the Mishcan was established in Shilo through the decision of Yehoshua, the elders and Bnai Yisrael. Torah Temimah suggests that because of this consensus the Mishcan in Shilo was referred to as the Bait Hashem – the House of G-d. The establishment of the Mishcan in Nov and Givon was not accompanied by this same level of consensus. The Mishcan was not referred to the Bait Hashem during its sojourns in these locations. Therefore, the Bikkurim could not be brought to the Mishcan while it was at these sites.
Torah Temimah is providing a clear distinction between the status of the Mishcan in Shilo and its status when located in Nov and Givon. However, we must ask two questions. First, why can Bikkurim only be brought to the Mishcan when it has the status of Bait Hashem? Second, how did the consensus of Yehoshua the elders and the nation confer this status?
It seems that Bikkurim can only be brought to a Mishcan or Mikdash that is designated as the central location for worship. This designation is indicated that the title of Bait Hashem. In order for this designation to fully exist, it must emerge from the consensus of the leader of prophet, the elders and the nation. Only through the acquiescence of all these parties does the Tabernacle become the unique central location for worship – the Bait Hashem. In other words, the consensus endows the Mishcan with a higher designation and sanctity. This higher designation is essential to the mitzvah of Bikkurim.
Abrabanel suggests an alternative distinction between the Mishcan of Shilo and the Mishcan of Nov and Givon. He observes that the walls of the Mishcan in the wilderness were made of curtains. These curtains were supported by wooden boards. In Shilo these walls were replaced by a stone structure. Only the roof of Mishcan was still composed of curtains. In Nov and Givon the original system of curtain walls supported by boards was restored. Abrabanel contends that these walls endowed Shilo with the status of a House of Hashem. Because the Tabernacle of Nov and Givon lacked stone walls, the Mishcan could not be defined as a house while at these locations.
It seems odd that the structure of the walls of the Mishcan would determine suitability for the mitzvah of Bikkurim! How did walls produce this effect?
It seems reasonable that the presence of stone walls indicated some level of permanence. Without these stone walls the Mishcan was essentially a portable structure. It had no relationship to its current location. Once the boards and curtains were replaced by stone walls, the Mishcan was transformed. It assumed a relationship with its location. It was a fixed feature of the land and location.
Abrabanel apparently maintains that the mitzvah of Bikkurim required more than a Temple. It demands a geographically unique location sanctified through the Mishcan. The Bikkurim cannot merely be brought to a holy structure. They must be must be brought to a location endowed with sanctity. A portable Tabernacle has not effect on the sanctity of its geographical location. There is no relationship between the Mishcan and the location. This changes once walls are erected. The Mishcan becomes a fixture of the land. Now the geographical location is sanctified.
Malbim suggests that the approach of Torah Temimah and Abrabanel are related. The Mishcan of Shilo was erected with stone walls as a result of the consensus. It seems the Malbim maintains that the Mishcan cannot be assigned a relationship with a geographical location without the consensus of the prophet, elders and nation.
Malbim’s approach explains another halacha. Maimonides explains the process for extending the boundaries of Yerushalayim and the courtyards of the Mikdash. He explains that this process requires the consensus of the king, prophet and Sages. Why is this consensus needed? According to Malbim, we can understand this requirement. An addition to the city of Yerushalayim endows the geographical location with the sanctity of the city. Extending the courtyards of the Temple has the same effect. It bestows sanctity upon the location. The association of these sanctities with a geographical location requires the consensus of the nation. This only emerges though the participation of the king, prophet and Sages.
“And Hashem did not give you the heart to understand, the eyes to see and the ears to hear until this day.” (Devarim 29:3)
Moshe completes his review of the mitzvot. He enters into the closing sections of his address. He explains that only now has the nation acquired an understanding and appreciation of Hashem and His Torah. Sforno explains that Hashem performed miracles and provided evidence of His greatness in Egypt. However, Bnai Yisrael was not emotionally prepared to fully assimilate this exhibition. The experiences of the wilderness provided the nation with the opportunity to mature and develop a relationship with the Almighty. Now, Bnai Yisrael is poised to enter the land of Israel. The nation now fully appreciates Hashem.
Rashi offers a homiletic interpretation of Moshe’s comments. Moshe had recorded the entire Torah in a scroll. On the day of his address, he delivered this Torah scroll to Shevet Leyve. The nation protested. They complained that the significance of Moshe’s action could be misinterpreted. In the future, the Leveyim could claim that they solely are entrusted with preserving the legacy of the Torah. They might dispute the role of the rest of the nation in participating in a Torah community. Moshe recognized that this sentiment indicated that Bnai Yisrael longed to serve Hashem and observe His Torah. He expressed this conclusion in our pasuk. He told Bnai Yisrael that now they had demonstrated an appreciation of the Torah.
Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt”l asks a question on Rashi’s comments. The Torah is clearly addressed to Bnai Yisrael. Most mitzvot begin with the instruction that Moshe relate the commandment to Bnai Yisrael. The entire Sefer Devarim is an admonition to the entire nation to devote itself to observance and study of the Torah. How could any confusion arise regarding this issue? Shevet Leyve could not attempt to exclude the rest of the nation form the Torah community. Bnai Yisrael could reassert its just claim by referring the Leveyim to the contents of the Torah!
Rav Moshe responds that the nation did not fear exclusion. The people were concerned with a different issue. Moshe had told Shevet Leyve that it would provide Torah leadership. The shevet would receive its material sustenance from the other tribes. The Leveyim would not be required to work the land or toil in the material world. This would free the Leveyim to devote themselves entirely to the study and teaching of the Torah. This role was again confirmed with the delivery of the Torah scroll to the Leveyim. They were to be the scholars. They held Moshe’s Torah in safe-keeping.
This special role assigned to the Leveyim disturbed the nation. All of Bnai Yisrael wanted the opportunity to assume this role. They too wanted the opportunity to completely devote themselves to the study of the Torah and teaching of its lessons. They feared that Shevet Leyve would claim this role as exclusively theirs.
Moshe recognized that this attitude was positive. It indicated that the nation was deeply devoted to the Torah. He responded that now the nation appreciates the value of the Torah.
What was Moshe’s response to the issue raised by Bnai Yisrael? It is not sufficient to commend the nation for its attitude. The issue must be addressed. The final passages of the parasha provide Moshe’s response. He tells the people that they must observe the Torah. This observance will be rewarded. Bnai Yisrael will succeed in all their endeavors. This will allow the people to devote themselves to contemplation of the wisdom of the Torah. Like the Leveyim, their toil will be reduced or eliminated. They will be sustained by the grace of the Almighty. Mesechet Kiddushin 37b.  Sifrei Parshat Ki Tavo, chapter 2.  Sefer Yehoshua 18:1.  Sefer Shemuel I, 1:24.  Rav Baruch HaLeyve Epstein, Torah Temimah on Sefer Devarim 26:2.  Don Yitzchak Abravanel, Commentary on Sefer Devarim, p 245.  Rabbaynu Meir Libush (Malbim), Commentary on Sefer Devarim 26:2.  Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Bait HaBichirah 6:11.  Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Meir (Rashbam) Commentary on Sefer Devarim 29:3.  Rav Moshe Feinstein, Drash Moshe, p 162.