Wednesday, October 05, 2022

The mitzvah of bikkurim highlights the fundamental midah of hakarat hatov. The farmer gives the kohen his first fruits, which represents giving back to Hashem. He pronounces a declaration, acknowledging his gratefulness to Hashem for bringing him to where he is now.

In regards to the mitzvah of sanctifying the firstborn of man and animal which Hashem says belong to Him (Shemot 13:2), the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 18) says that among the underlying purposes of this mitzvah is that Hashem wanted to merit us to do a mitzvah with the first of our produce (i.e. the firstborn), in order that we come to know that everything is Hashem’s and all that we have is really from Hashem; one will realize this upon seeing that even after all the exertion one went through and what has finally been produced, he nevertheless gives this cherished first product immediately to Hashem.

Perhaps this understanding can be one of the central ideas of bikkurim. Just imagine, a person works and works on his land, for so many days and months, and finally after all the effort he sees the first fruits of his labor, his cherished dividends. But he doesnt get to enjoy these first fruits (of the seven species) as they go to the Kohen, Hashem’s representative. The amount of time and toil, and to then give away what he worked so hard for, can ingrain in a person that his success is not from his efforts and abilities but is totally from Hashem. In fact, in the concluding words of his declaration he says, “I have brought the first fruit…that You have given me, Hashem.” A person may naturally think that since he put in the effort and then saw success that his success stems from his abilities. Bikkurim can teach, however, that it’s from Hashem. Your abilities, blessings and success is dependent solely on Hashem. “You,” have given me.

The owner prefaces the declaration by saying, “I declare today … that I have come to the land (of Israel)...” Rav Moshe Feinstein (Kol Rom, Ki Tavo) asks, “‘today’ implies that on ‘this day’ he came to Eretz Yisrael! Didn’t this farmer arrive long before ‘today’?”

Rav Moshe explains that in birkat Yotzer Ohr, it relates that Hashem “in His goodness, renews every day, constantly, the work of creation.” This means that at every single moment Hashem is creating and recreating the world from nothingness, like what occurred at the six days of beginning of creation. One may think creation once was, but in reality, creation is an ongoing phenomenon and occurs each and every day and moment. Likewise, a person may think his coming to Eretz Yisrael once was, but in truth, since every day and every moment is a totally new creation, it’s as if this day he actually came to Israel. Hence, “Today I have come...”

A person who merits living in Eretz Yisrael may soon get used to it and naturally expect it to continue. Bikkurim comes to remind, that every day, every moment, is a new phenomenon straight from Hashem—it’s as if right now you made aliyah! If every day is a totally new creation, would anyone truly expect a new “maaseh bereishit” to occur the very next day? No day or moment can therefore be taken for granted, for tomorrow—and really every moment—is dependent on Hashem’s constant creation of it. This reinforces the perspective that every moment of life is totally dependent on Hashem.

In the declaration, the farmer mentions the past—how Lavan sought to annihilate our forefather Yaakov, the bitter experiences in Egypt, Hashem redeeming us and bringing us to Eretz Yisrael. Why does he mention all this? True, it all was a leadup to where he is now, but based on the above, we can add that if nothing can be taken for granted since all our success is from Hashem, then surely our success in the past is likewise from Hashem. Thus it’s appropriate to acknowledge the tremendous kindness Hashem did for us then to get us where we are now. One might think it was Yaakov’s abilities to escape alive from Lavan, and it was Moshe’s might that freed us from the bonds of Egypt—and thus fail to give due credit to Hashem. For if Hashem wanted, we still could’ve been in Egypt, like it’s stated in the Haggadah: If Hashem didn’t take us out we would’ve still been subjugated to Pharoah! Recognizing this, one can then appreciate the blessing of living in Eretz Yisrael and having success there.

Immediately after this declaration, the basket of fruit is placed down, and the owner bows before Hashem. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz points out that we do not find the idea of bowing down to Hashem mentioned in other commandments. Why is it mentioned here? Rav Shmulevitz explains that since bringing bikkurim is an expression of our awareness that everything we have is a gift from Hashem, therefore, the owner bows to Hashem, which symbolizes his total submission to Him as he recognizes that all that he has is truly from Him (Seen in “Growth Through Torah, p. 446).

When a person realizes his total dependence on Hashem for his needs and success in any which way, he becomes humbled, and the bowing is perhaps an expression of this. We seemingly see a common thread that surrounds bikkurim. Namely, this idea of our dependence on Hashem, in recognition that all we have and have had, is from Him. From the Sefer Hachinuch we can learn that our practical and material successes are dependent on Hashem. From “today” and our experience in Egypt we can learn that our current state, our lives and our every moment, is dependent on Hashem. The unique and rare idea of bowing shows our submission and thus dependence on Hashem’s input. Maybe then, this declaration can be perceived on some level as a “declaration of dependence.”

Since the goal of bikkurim is perhaps hakarat hatov, we can suggest that the connection between this theme of dependence, that’s discovered within the fabric of bikkurim, and hakarat hatov comes to show that the ability for one to feel and express gratitude to Hashem may hinge upon recognizing our dependence on Hashem.

The Midrash Tanchuma (Ki Tavo, 1) says that upon foreseeing the future destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the cessation of bikkurim, Moshe instituted that Bnei Yisrael should pray three times a day. The question is, what’s the connection between bikkurim and tefillah, which seems to be established in its stead?

In tefillah, we ask for wisdom, health, prosperity, salvation, etc. Essentially, a person is acknowledging that ultimately these are all dependent on Hashem. Hence, if bikkurim carries this theme of recognizing our dependency on Hashem, then it and tefillah share this common denominator. Moreover, if dependency leads to gratitude, as we suggested from bikkurim, perhaps this is one of the functions of tefillah, as in fact, after we ask for our needs and show our dependence on Hashem, only then do we arrive at “modim”—feeling grateful and thanking Hashem for life and for all the good He gives us.

When one is humbled to recognize his dependence on Hashem, one’s appreciation, gratefulness and thanks can be felt and expressed for all that one may have.

Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work

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