Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The recitation that accompanies the bringing of the first fruits (Bikkurim) in the times of the Temple, from the seven species of the Land of Israel to Jerusalem is an act of joy and appreciation for the bounty provided by Hashem.  The next sentence following the recitation states, “And you shall rejoice in all the good granted to you by Hashem your God” (Devarim, 26:11).

Whether it is a productive or a lean year, it is imperative to appreciate whatever is received from Hashem. This message also applies to the text of the recitation as well, which recalls Laban’s pursuit of Jacob, the eventual migration to Egypt, the exodus of the Israelites, and their entry into the land of Israel. The first fruits picked and brought to Jerusalem were ultimately the results of these events.

The miraculous supernatural events of the exodus from Egypt are mentioned, “And Hashem took us out of Egypt by a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great awe, with signs and wonders.” Devarim, 26:8

Also mentioned are miracles within the confines of nature. The reference to Jacob’s flight from Laban, “The Aramite sought to destroy my father,“ (Devarim 26:5) can imply that Laban’s intent was to destroy Jacob who was saved by Hashem, although not by open miracles. That passage can also be interpreted as stating that ‘my father,’ Jacob, or perhaps, Abraham, was a nomad, and with Hashem’s help, despite the humble beginnings as a shepard and then the dire challenges faced, became the father of a nation.

Throughout Jewish history, Jews have faced many threats to their existence suffering  persecution at the hands of tyrants and by empires that have risen and fallen. The continued existence of Jewry despite all challenges over the past two millennia is a miracle. Amid the travail, there is also the kindness of Hashem that enabled the Jews to persevere.

When Jewish soldiers with the German army entered Poland during the First World War, and encountered the Jewish communities of Poland, the ‘Ostjuden,’ (Eastern Jews) many could not understand their inherent sense of joy in the face of so much suffering which the war had caused them.  How could they be so content in spirit? How could they dance and sing on their holidays? The answer is that the Ostjuden rejoiced in their very existence as Jews. Though lacking so much, they reveled in that precious legacy they possessed though elusive to many of their Jewish critics from Germany whose families had assimilated decades earlier.

A German Jewish soldier wrote the following of his impressions of the Ostjuden in a letter to his parents from a Jewish town in Russia during the war.

The picture of suffering (of Jews in Russia and Galicia during the war) was in my soul when I entered the synagogue for services. The people were festive, peaceful as if there was no war and praised Hashem who makes us happy every day. They say he gives us peace. Don’t they know about the murdering in Galicia and Poland where the old and babies are not spared? Don’t they feel that it’s not a time of blessings but of curses? That Hashem is punishing rather than making us happy. Don’t they feel that? I pray with a sad soul and know that G-d won’t listen to my supplications. Then I heard the words in the prayers, (ki lekach tov natati lachem.) ‘I have granted you a good teaching,’ Proverbs 4:2,  and remembered that religion does not dissolve suffering, but that it enhances and purifies moral feelings and that we can go through times of trial.

In today’s world it is easy to despair. Like an incurable disease, Jew-hatred persists and poses increasing threats to Jewry; From Iran to Syria, France to Sweden to the UN and places in between.  Yet, as Jews, we can rejoice as our ancestors who brought the first fruits and recited the recitation. We can thank our Creator who has carried us as Jews through the millennia despite the threats.

By Larry Domnitch