Bikurim (First Fruits)

parashas Ki Savo 5781

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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.

Inheritance

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“That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the L-RD thy G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.”

– Deuteronomy 26:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first fruits (bikurim) from each person’s harvest, were to be brought to “the place that H’Shem your G-d will choose” after B’nei Yisrael entered the Land. Upon giving the bikurim to a Kohein, one of G-d’s representatives, a proclamation was made, by the giver, declaring a brief historical background, encapsulating the identity of the Children of Israel from humble origins:

“And thou shalt speak and say before the L-RD thy G-d: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.” – Deuteronomy 26:5 , JPS 1917 Tanach

 “My father, i.e. Yaakov, who was for a while a wandering lost person without a home of his own, was not at the time able to establish a nation deserving or fit to inherit this land.” – Sforno

Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, began his endeavors to establish a family, and vocation, as a wandering Aramean, having left home to find a wife. Yet, he went out into the world without anything of value, not even a dowry. After twenty years of working for Laban, he set out to his home country. From there, he and the seventy members of his family were called to go down to Egypt. The Children of Israel were enslaved, eventually freed, and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Entering the Promised Land would be the culmination of the Exodus.

Upon entering the land, the show of gratitude, a deep appreciation of H’Shem, and the origins of a national identity were acknowledged. Today, we need to reconnect with our origins as children of H’Shem. Once we are able to acknowledge our heritage, so that we may identify with our past as a people, we may also become aware of the Inheritance that awaits us.

“Men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen” (Isaiah 64:3). Regarding this verse, Rashi explains that while the sages note that the prophets only spoke in regard to the Messianic era, they were not able to speak of Olam Haba (Berachos 34a). What awaits us in Olam Haba is beyond description, imagination, or our greatest expectations.

A Wandering Aramean

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“And thou shalt speak and say before the L-RD thy G-d: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.” – Deuteronomy 26:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

“He begins with shame and concludes with praise.”

– Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 70a

Jacob was a wandering Aramean (inasmuch that he spent twenty years serving his Uncle Laban in Aramea). According to the declaration made when the Bikurim (first fruits) were brought by an Israelite to the Kohein, the national narrative begins with Jacob, homeless and peniless (Ibn Ezra). Our humble beginnings as a people begin in shame; yet, they end in praise (see above). As a people, B’nei Yisrael became a nation, after being freed from slavery in Egypt.

We are like unto Jacob; If we are able to recognize our own “spiritual poverty,” then we would aspire towards the freedom from the shackles of our yetzer hara (evil inclination). In like manner that B’nei Yisrael received the Torah at Sinai, gaining true freedom through the commandments, we may do the same by following a life of restraint, moderation, and righteousness, with help from the L-RD. We may aspire towards greater heights, when we live in accordance with the guidelines given to us at Sinai.

When bringing the first fruits of the land as an offering to the Kohein, the declaration made by each individual Israelite is meant to remind the person bringing the offering of all that there is to be thankful for, in addition to the fruits of the land. “A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey” (Deuteronomy 8:8, JPS 1917 Tanach). The material blessings in our own lives are best enjoyed with the acknowledgment of the L-RD’s influence. Whether we are able to clearly see His hand at work in our lives or not, we should always give thanks.

“And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O L-RD, hast given me.’ And thou shalt set it down before the L-RD thy G-d, and worship before the L-RD thy G-d. And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the L-RD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of thee.”

– Deuteronomy 26:10-11, JPS 1917 Tanach