May 28, 2024
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Sometimes It’s the Thought That Counts

In parshas Ki Savo, we encounter the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits (bikkurim) to the Kohen in Yerushalayim. “And you shall take from the first of all fruits of the ground that you bring from your land that the Lord, your God, gives you; and you will place it in a basket and you will walk to the place that the Lord, your God, will choose to cause His presence to dwell there,” (Devarim 26:2). This was the opportunity for the farmer to show gratitude to Hashem for all of the bounty that was about to come his way throughout the upcoming harvest season.

The Ramban points out a fascinating aspect of this mitzvah: there is no minimum requirement for the quantity of first fruits to be brought. Even a single grape would fulfill this obligation. This illustrates a profound concept—the value lies not in the size or worth of the gift, but in the intention and sincerity behind it.

Rav Yissocher Frand adds depth to this lesson by drawing a parallel between the bikkurim and gift-giving in our lives. Often, we might not be able to afford extravagant presents, but the sentiment we express can be more valuable than the gift itself. This sentiment becomes even more powerful when conveyed through a heartfelt note, expressing good wishes and gratitude to the recipient. This reflects the idea that a simple, heartfelt message can surpass the worth of an elaborate gift.

To illustrate this point, imagine a child crafting a birthday card for his mother. The artwork may not be a masterpiece, and the card might not win any awards. However, if the child accompanies the gift with a note that reads, “Mommy, I love you,” the emotional impact transcends the artistic value. This highlights the idea that the sincerity and love behind a gesture often carry more weight than its material aspects.

Another perspective to consider is the idea that gifts can take different forms. Acts of service, spending quality time together or going out of one’s way to help someone are all forms of giving that demonstrate care and consideration. These acts require thought, effort and a genuine desire to make the other person’s life better, illustrating the notion that it is, indeed, the thought that counts. Sometimes, the most impactful gifts are unexpected acts of kindness. A small gesture, like leaving a thoughtful note on a colleague’s desk or surprising a friend with their favorite treat, can brighten someone’s day and strengthen the bonds of friendship.

Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, also known as the Vilna Gaon, was a renowned Torah scholar and a master of Kabbalah in the 18th century. His deep wisdom and dedication to Torah studies were widely respected.

One year, as the holiday of Purim approached, Rabbi Eliyahu decided to send a gift to his dear friend, Rabbi Zalman of Volozhin, who was the founder of the famous Volozhin yeshiva. For Purim, Rabbi Eliyahu prepared a carefully crafted gift: a beautifully written letter of blessings and well-wishes, along with a small bag of lentils. To some, this choice of gift might have seemed ordinary or even inconsequential. However, Rabbi Eliyahu’s intention was deeply profound.

In his accompanying letter, he explained the significance of the lentils. He cited a midrash that highlighted the connection between the Hebrew word for “lentils—adashim,” and the word “geula, redemption.” The Vilna Gaon interpreted this connection as a symbolic representation of his hope and prayers for the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people.

He wrote to Rabbi Zalman: “Just as lentils are transformed from a plain and unremarkable seed into something nourishing and sustaining, so too, may the current state of our people be transformed into a time of spiritual and physical prosperity.”

The importance of thoughtfulness in gift-giving resonates deeply with the mitzvah of bikkurim. The concept that, “It’s the thought that counts,” extends beyond the realm of material gifts, encapsulating sentiments, emotions and meaningful gestures. The parallels drawn between the farmer’s simple offering of first fruits and the heartfelt gifts we offer in our lives remind us that true value lies in the authenticity, care and intention behind the gift.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida.
He can be reached at [email protected].

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