Social distancing will likely be the 2020 word of the year—a concept that was foreign to us at Rosh Hashanah 5780. The effects of this global pandemic have led to a serious recalibration of our interactions, schedules, engagements and priorities. Our holidays, celebrations and community involvement have all been radically stunted through our inability to come in proximity with others. However, for many of us, this great disruption has also led to a reappreciation of the many gifts we have in our lives, actually bringing us closer to the elements that we hold so dear.
This notion of appreciation is the essential part of the mitzvah of bringing the bikurim, the first fruits:
“And it shall be, when you come into the Land that Hashem your God gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell therein; that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring in from your Land that Hashem your God gives you; and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.” (Devarim 26:1-2)
Rashi, quoting the Gemara in Kiddushin, states, “Israel was not obligated to bring bikurim until they conquered the land and divided it up [amongst the tribes].”
The Sifri seems to suggest a diametrically opposed opinion of Rashi and posits that the obligation of bringing bikurim occurred immediately upon entering the land.
Commentators question the novelty of Rashi’s interpretation; isn’t it obvious that one cannot bring the gift of bikurim until you actually own the land from which the produce grew? Additionally, they question the Sifri’s logic; from which land is one bringing produce if the obligation of bikurim applies immediately after entering the land?
Both Rashi and the Sifri derive their positions from the wording: “And it shall be, when you come into the land that Hashem your God gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell therein.”
The Sifri interprets the word “Vahaya—and it shall be” as alluding to immediacy. Whereas Rashi focuses on the latter part of the verse—that inheritance and possession are both required to kick start the obligation of bikurim.
Some suggest that the gap between the Sifri and Rashi actually does not exist. In parshat Re’eh, Rashi interprets the word “dwelling” as not an actual inhabitance: “until the tribes were divided and each one recognized his own portion.”
To make sense of this peculiar phrase, we need to take a step back and remind ourselves that the concept behind bikurim is that of hakarat hatov, i.e., an appreciation for the bounty we have received. (Sefer Hachinuch #91)
Both as individuals and as a nation we should never feel that “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Devarim 8:17) Rather, we are obligated to have a constant awareness that everything we own is really “that which Hashem your God gives you.” (Devarim 26:1)
The obligation of hakarat hatov starts even before we actually have a complete fulfillment of the cause célèbre. Our appreciation ought not to wait until we actually finish dividing the land, but rather the conquering of each individual’s land itself should be a source of inspiration and emotional upswell to thank our Creator. The mere knowledge that we are on the cusp of receiving a promise or seeing the fulfillment of a dream should create the need to express appreciation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to alter our expectations, change the way we define and execute events and how we experience life’s special moments. A year ago, if one would describe how we would be celebrating Pesach, Shavuot, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs we would have likely been thrown into a depression.
But having experienced these modified events, we have learned that not only are we resilient, adaptable, ingenious and resourceful but that these modified events can be equally enjoyable, fully mesmerizing, emotionally charged and fulfilling.
We have learned that we can experience pure happiness and joy because we have GRATITUDE and recognize our portion—and our portion is beautiful.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass is the co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).