For the week ending 8 June 2024 / 2 Sivan 5784

Taamei Hamitzvos - Bikkurim and the Giving of the Torah

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Reasons Behind the Mitzvos: Bikkurim and the Giving of the Torah

By Rabbi Shmuel Kraines

“Study improves the quality of the act and completes it, and a mitzvah is more beautiful when it emerges from someone who understands its significance.” (Meiri, Bava Kama 17a)

Mitzvah #606 (Devarim 26:1-11)

The mitzvah of Bikkurim requires a person to bring the first fruits of his produce in a basket to the Beis HaMikdash, proclaim words of gratitude, and present them to a Kohen on duty, who places it by the Altar. After the ceremony, the Kohen would take the Bikkurim for himself. This is one of the means of livelihood that the Torah accords Kohanim to enable them to dedicate their time to the service in Beis HaMikdash.

Bikkurimmay be brought only from the Seven Species for which the Land is praised. Bikkurimmay only be brought during the time of harvest, which begins on Shavuos. Some explain that for this reason, Shavuos is called “the Day of Bikkurim” (Bamidbar 28:26) [Chizkuni; see also Rashi].

The speech that the bringer of the Bikkurim must recite begins by describing our humble beginnings: fleeing from Lavan, descending to Egypt, suffering bitter slavery, and emerging with unprecedented wealth and spiritual greatness on the way to the Promised Land. The reason we relate the story of the Exodus at this time is that it is a person's nature to take Hashem's gifts for granted, especially when it comes to the first fruits of his labor. We therefore have to recall that we began in Egypt working hard as slaves to produce fruits for our masters, and Hashem granted us liberty, His precious Torah, and His prized Land. We ought to consider ourselves fortunate to be able to work hard and produce for ourselves! Seen from this perspective, our gratitude to Hashem is true and complete.

We are required to relate the story of the Exodus aloud in order to arouse our thoughts and emotions. By acknowledging Hashem's kindness toward us and the Jewish people as a whole, we merit that Hashem sees fit to bestow further blessing upon His Land and His people (Sefer HaChinuch).

One might ask: If Bikkurim is connected with the Exodus, why does the time for Bikkurim begin on Shavuos, the day of the Giving of the Torah?

We may suggest as follows: The mitzvah of Bikkurim ends with a directive to rejoice over all the good that Hashem has given us. Now that we have acknowledged that our bounty comes from Hashem by bringing the Bikkurim, it is appropriate for us to rejoice over all the good that He has given us. On a deeper level of understanding though, the Sages expound that “the good that Hashem has given us” is an allusion to the Torah (Tanchuma,Re’eh). Our joy and gratitude over the gift of the Land culminates with joy and gratitude over the Torah whose precepts govern and inspire our life in this Land. As the Torah makes clear several times, the fulfillment of the Torah is essential to our right to live in Eretz Yisrael, and that is why Hashem did not bring us to Eretz Yisrael until He gave us the Torah. It is therefore only appropriate for us to bring Bikkurim and express our joy and gratitude over the Land from Shavuos onward, when, in a spiritual sense, we receive the Torah anew every year.

The Sages teach that in a way, it is possible to fulfill the mitzvah of Bikkurim even today. When a person gives a gift to a Torah scholar or hosts a Torah scholar in his home, Hashem regards it as if it were a gift of Bikkurim brought for Him in the Beis HaMikdash (Kesuvos 105b;Vayikra Rabbah 34:13).

Contemplating this mitzvah also reminds us not to take Hashem’s multitudes of kindness for granted. Not only will this add much joy to our lives, but also it will make us worthy of receiving more and more blessing.

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