Judaism is all about recognizing and appreciating the kindness of God and not overrating our own capabilities and accomplishments. It’s not all about ME!
This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8), meaning “When you come” and referring to the Jewish People’s arrival in the Land of Israel. A major theme is the mitzvah (commandment) of Bikkurim – the “offering of the first fruits.”
In Temple times, Jewish farmers would make their way to Jerusalem, bringing with them the first fruits of their crops. Not all fruits were subject to the Bikkurim requirement; only wheat, barley grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates – the “fancy fruits” for which the Land of Israel is praised.
On the way to Jerusalem (the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people…for those who weren’t sure), the farmers would be met by the elders of the cities, who would come forth to greet them and then escort them to the Holy Temple. A number of scriptural verses were recited as part of the ceremony. The procedures and atmosphere accompanying the bringing of the Bikkurim were especially festive.
The question is asked: There was a whole slew of different offerings brought to the Holy Temple throughout the year. Even daily! So why is it that the Bikkurim merited such elaborate festivity and fanfare? What about all the other offerings? Why were they more “low-key”? Furthermore, there is even a teaching that (are you sitting?) the entire world was created just so that the mitzvah of Bikkurim could be performed! Whoa! What’s going on?! What’s all the buzz about the mitzvah of Bikkurim/First Fruits?
One of the answers is that the distinction between the mitzvah of Bikkurim and all other offerings lies in the fact that Bikkurim represents the essence of Judaism.
Farming is very hard, often backbreaking work (at least in ancient times!). It is a profession whose income is very uncertain: there could be droughts, floods and insect infestations. Anything can go wrong. Produce could be attractive, or it might be wilted. Everything is so insecure and fragile in the farming profession.
But when absolutely nothing goes wrong and a farmer truly has a crop of first fruits that he is excited about and that makes him proud, he might be tempted to think: “MY strength and the power of MY hand made me this great wealth!” [cf. Deuteronomy 18:17] It’s all ME! I did it!
The purpose of the mitzvah of Bikkurim is to eradicate such thoughts. It forces us to realize that everything is the work of God. It forces us to appreciate and understand who really gives us our sustenance.
This is why the mitzvah of Bikkurim is so special. No, it’s not “MY strength and the power of MY hand, made me this great wealth!” Rather, it’s all God. We are merely the beneficiaries of His kindness. We have to realize that He is the one who makes everything happen and who blesses the work of our hands. This, my friends, is indeed what Judaism is all about.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel
Following are links to previous Living Torah articles by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s reading: