Why is it the “first” that God wants, not the best?
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Have you ever noticed that the Torah wants a farmer to offer his “First Fruits” – not necessarily his “best fruits?” Have you ever wondered why the Torah wants us to dedicate (or redeem) our firstborn son to God – not necessarily our best and brightest son? Indeed, there is a common denominator among a number of similar mitzvot (Torah commandments) in which God tells us he wants the “first” and not necessarily “the best.”
It is explained that beginnings are the most important. It is “the first” – no matter what it is – that sets the tone.
The Jewish farmer gets excited as his first fruits begin to emerge each year. There are two different attitudes that the farmer can take. One approach is, “Yes! I did it! These luscious, perfectly grown fruits are due to my hard work. All mine! Can’t wait to dig in!” The other approach is, “Without God this would not have been possible. How fortunate am I to have been blessed with such luscious and perfectly grown fruits! I am going to bring the first fruits as an offering to God in the Holy Temple.”
So you see, it really doesn’t matter whether or not these will be the best fruits of the season. They are the first, and the farmer has to set the tone by showing appreciation to God for making it all possible.
Why am I discussing this issue now, of all times? Because Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, makes the same point. It’s the first day of the year, the start of an almost-30-day-long spiritual marathon. This is the most important “first” one can experience on an annual basis, and we have to do it right.
To this end, our sages tell us that we are supposed to fake piety during the first 10 days of the year. For example, one who only observes the “bare minimum” kosher laws should, at least for the first 10 days, be a little more meticulous in observance of this mitzvah. The more one can increase his or her observance during these days, the more praiseworthy he or she is. This is true even if one has every intention of resuming the former practices at the end of the 10 days.
The question is asked: Is this not hypocritical, if not outright useless? Are we trying to fool God? Can God really be fooled into thinking we are more pious then we are?
No, say our sages. Not only is such conduct perfectly acceptable, but it is even encouraged (and obligatory according to some sources)! It’s that “first” principle again. Firsts set the tone. Firsts get us on the right path. Firsts help us lock on to the right attitude. No, we will not be on such a pious level for the entire year, but the way we conduct ourselves at the start of the year has the power to affect us, tochange us, and by extension, to earn a Divine wink from above.
Wishing everyone every blessing for the New Year.