Bikurim (First Fruits)

parashas Ki Savo 5781

drash for parashas Ki Savo 5781

Ki Tavo begins with the commandment of bikurim (first fruits). This commandment was to be performed after B’nei Yisrael entered Eretz Canaan, after taking possession of their inheritance, and living in the Land of Israel. This means that it was only incumbent upon them to observe the mitzvah of bikurim, after they were well established in the land. It was to serve as a reminder of their heritage. The declaration that is made at the time, encapsulates our history, beginning with Jacob, who went to Egypt with his entire family, during the famine, when Joseph provided for them. And, how we became slaves in Egypt; yet, H’Shem redeemed us, and we became His people, bound by covenant to the Torah.

This declaration, made after bringing a basket of the first fruits of one’s harvest to the Kohein, concerns our history, how we began as a small people, and became populous. And, after our redemption from slavery, were brought into “a land that flows with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9). Therefore, bikurim is an expression of gratitude to H’Shem, as well as a tribute to His powerful redemptive act of bringing us out of Egypt, and a reminder of our past bondage. Our humble origins as a people, had to do with the sobering recollection that we were once enslaved in a foreign land. And, the import of this declaration brings to light all of the provisions bestowed upon us since that time.

The bikurim (first fruits) were brought to Yerushalayim, between Shavuot and Sukkot, the harvest season. The seven species from which they were selected were wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, grapes, and dates. Today, these grains and fruits serve to remind us of our connection to the Land of Israel. We may enjoy these foods, especially at certain times, according to tradition, in the same spirit that B’nei Yisrael was called upon to rejoice in Yerushalayim, when they brought the bikurim.

Torah insight: Shoftim 5781

Deuteronomy 18:1

“The levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no territorial portion with Israel.”

Their presence was required at the Temple, even according to a designated rotation of shifts; moreover, they were scattered amongst the territories of the tribes, in order to attend to the spiritual needs of the entire people. Thus, in acknowledgment of their devotion to H’Shem, Maimonides speaks of the optional commitment that we may take upon ourselves, to become like unto “spiritual Levites.”

Tish b’Av 5781

“And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the L-RD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

– Isaiah 2:2-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jerusalem Day 5781

“Our Heavenly Father, Israel’s Rock and Redeemer, Bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Shield it under the wings of Your loving kindness And spread over it the Tabernacle of Your peace. Send Your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and officials, And direct them with good counsel before You.” “Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy land; Grant them deliverance, our G-d, And crown them with the crown of victory. Grant peace in the land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants.” “As for our brethren, the whole house of Israel, Remember them in all the lands of their dispersion, And swiftly lead them upright to Zion your city, And Jerusalem Your dwelling place, As is written in the Torah of Moses Your servant: ‘Even if you are scattered to the furthermost land under the heavens, From there the L-rd your G-d will gather you and take you back. The L-rd your G-d will bring you to the land Your ancestors possessed and you will possess it; And He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.’” Deuteronomy 30:4-5 “Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name And observe all the words of Your Torah, And swiftly send us Your righteous anointed one of the house of David; To redeem those who long for Your salvation.” “Appear in Your glorious majesty over all the dwellers on earth, And let all who breathe declare: The L-rd G-d of Israel is King And His kingship has dominion over all. Amen, Selah.”

– Chief Rabbi of Israel, 1948

Yom HaAtzmaut: Israeli Independence Day

May 14, 1948

“Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Is a land born in one day? Is a nation brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.”

– Isaiah 66:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

“And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

– Isaiah 10:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors, in other days and in our time. In the days when Your children were returning to their borders, at the time of a people revived in its land as in days of old, the gates to the land of our ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing the sword. When enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble. You defended them and vindicated them. You gave them the courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge, and to free the land of its armed invaders. You delivered the many into the hands of the few, the guilty into the hands of the innocent. You have wrought great victories and miraculous deliverance for Your people Israel to this day, revealing Your glory and Your holiness to all the world.

– Al HaNisim for Yom HaAtzmaut, Siddur Sim Shalom, by Jules Harlow

Yom HaZikaron: Israeli Memorial Day

May G-d remember the valiant men and women who braved mortal danger in the days of struggle prior to the establishment of the State of Israel and the soldiers who fell in the wars of Israel.

May the people of Israel cherish them in their memory; let them mourn the splendor of youth, the altruism of valor, the dedication of will and the dignity of self-sacrifice which came to an end on the battlefield.

May the loyal and courageous heroes of freedom and victory be sealed forever within the hearts of all Israel, in this generation and forevermore.

  • – Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs, mfa.gov.il

Priorities

B”H


Shiur for Mattot-Masei 5780

“Let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession.”

– Numbers 32:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

The tribes of Reuben and Gad requested of Moshe, thus, also of H’Shem, that their inheritance be given to them on the East side of the Jordan River. Yet, they were rebuked by Moshe, for implying that they would not set forth into Eretz Canaan, with the rest of the twelve tribes of Jacob, to partake in the battles that would enable them to defeat the local inhabitants, subsequently, permitting them to settle in the land. In response to Moshe’s concerns, they responded that not only would they fight with their brethren, rather, also they would be the vanguard, and would remain in the Eretz Canaan, until the lands were allotted to the other tribes, before going back to the East side of the Jordan.

What compelled them, to place themselves outside of Eretz Yisrael proper, set apart from their brethren, was the quality of the land, east of the Jordan, wherein they would be able to graze their flocks; apparently, they had more livestock than any other tribe. Also, their immediate concerns with their livelihood may be part of an overall faulty outlook, further revealed when examining Moshe’s correction of their values. Two points are noted, based upon Moshe’s critique of their response: 1). misplaced allegiance, and 2). neglect of primary responsibilities.

First of all, Moshe points out that rather than making a commitment as the vanguard of the Children of Israel, when going into battle, for the sake of their inheritance in Eretz Canaan, they should see themselves as marching “before H’Shem,” first and foremost, according to His will. This should be their primary allegiance, then all else will follow. Even any commitment they felt towards their brethren should not be stronger than their devotion to H’Shem. As Arbavanel points out, the compassion towards their fellow tribes that compelled them to assist them in battle, does not match their obligation towards H’Shem. Our best intentions towards our fellow human being, even family and friends may fall short of the mark from time to time. However, when we fulfill our commitments to others, because we know that we should do so by divine decree, we are less likely to shirk our responsibilities.

Secondly, Moshe reminded the tribes of Gad and Reuben of their family responsibilites. They had initially said that they would “build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones” (Numbers 32:16). However, Moshe responded, “Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep” (32:34), reversing the order of their words to show that their children were certainly more important than their livestock.” A lesson for modern times, whereof misplaced values may lead to being sidetracked by an over-emphasis on work, material goods, and the temporal realm. Lest we forget, a more balanced perspective on life, inclusive of relationships, spiritual blessings, and the realm of the sublime.

“Search me, O G-d, and know my heart, try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any way in me that is grievous, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

– Psalm 139:23-24, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Mattos-Masei 5780

reflections: Redemption

B”H

17 Tammuz 5780

“And Moses said unto the people: ‘Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day.” – Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

Is the time drawing near for the sea to part? Is the Geulah (Redemption) at hand? The sages, in all of their sharp acuity, draw a parallel between the First Redemption, and the Final Redemption: akin to plagues that devastated Egypt, before the exodus of the Children of Israel, so will many plagues, even more than those inflicted upon ancient Egypt, precede the final redemption. This is gleaned from the following verse: “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt, will I show unto him marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS). Could the modern day plague of the coronavirus be a foreshadowing of the Messianic Age?

The current exile (galus) of the Jewish people began almost two thousand years ago, when the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. We were dispersed amongst the nations, as we still are today to some degree. Even though the state of Israel was renewed in 1948, without the Third Temple, we are technically still in exile. This is one reason why we proclaim every year, at the end of our Passover seder, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” In essence, this does not refer to having the opportunity to fly to Israel via El Al Airlines, in order to make aliyah to our Biblical homeland. Rather, this alludes to the Geulah (Redemption), when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.

At that time, “peace on earth,” in all of its splendor will prevail over the unruly forces, that have no interest in recognising G-d’s sovereignty. Needless to say, we are only witnessing the beginning of these forces to potentially impact society in an unprecedented way; the road has been paved ever since the Age of Enlightenment, when the Deity of Reason was worshipped, to the diminishment of a focus on G-d, and religious values. This set the background for the French Revolution.

Behind the facade of a higher cause, these forces hold sway over any godless movement, whose roots are deeper than its claims to higher ideals, human rights, or “power to the people.” It is interesting to note, that as a result of the Bubonic plague of the 14th Century in Europe, “some historians believe that society subsequently became more violent as the mass mortality rate cheapened life and thus increased warfare, crime, popular revolt, waves of flagellants, and persecution” (Wikipedia). As far as I know, excepting self-flagellation, this seems to ring true today, in the face of COVID-19. “If we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself.”

Am I overconcerned with the state of affairs in the world, and, more specifically, in America today? Others are apparently even more concerned. “In a normal month [Nefesh B’Nefesh] receives several hundred to a few thousand calls,” yet, this past June the Jewish organisation that promotes aliyah from the U.S. to Israel received 25,000 calls (VosIzNeias). For myself, I would only take that step, if and when I would hear the call from H’Shem, as has been mentioned by several fellow Jews in the not so recent past, concerning intuition from Above. Yet, the call to teshuvah, in and of itself, is primary; and, may be viewed the in light Hillel’s adage, “It’s not where you are, but how you are.” And, “if not now, when.”

“And thou shalt bethink thyself among the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jerusalem Day

B”H

May 22, 2020

A poem: Perhaps

Perhaps someone knows,
where the fire still glows.

Perhaps, the stars still shine
over the lives of distant relatives.

Somewhere, in the darkness of the past,
perhaps, they returned home at last.

Today, I continuously search,
within the ashes of the Shoah.

Searching for my lost family members,
whose fate is unknown.

Yet, the light from Shomayim
will always protect their souls.

Wrapped up in the Bundle of Life,
they are preserved forever.

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

Reflection: Yom HaShoah

B”H

Ezekiel 37:11
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי בֶּן־אָדָם הָֽעֲצָמוֹת הָאֵלֶּה כָּל־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה הִנֵּה אֹֽמְרִים יָֽבְשׁוּ עַצְמוֹתֵינוּ וְאָבְדָה תִקְוָתֵנוּ נִגְזַרְנוּ לָֽנוּ׃
Then he said to me, son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.

Ezekiel 37:12
לָכֵן הִנָּבֵא וְאָֽמַרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם כֹּֽה־אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יֱהֹוִה הִנֵּה אֲנִי פֹתֵחַ אֶת־קִבְרֽוֹתֵיכֶם וְהַֽעֲלֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם מִקִּבְרֽוֹתֵיכֶם עַמִּי וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל־אַדְמַת יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus says the L-rd G-d: Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.

  • Tanach Bible

Out of the ashes of the Shoah, Israel was restored in 1948, thus fulfilling the prophecy, “Is a land born in one day? Is a nation brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isaiah 66:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).