Parshas Ki Savo: Reflections

This week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, opens with the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the bringing of the first fruits of the shivas ha’minim (Deut.8:8) up to the Temple.  In a most beautiful and moving passage, the verses describe the process of the Bikkurim offering, as well as the text that is recited by the farmer (landowner) who offers his first fruits to the kohen in the Temple (Devarim 26:1-11).

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:1-4) elaborate on many details of the wonderful procession of landowners who go together up to Tzion, with baskets of fresh and dried fruits, and an ox with gilded horns and olive wreath ahead of their procession.  In addition, there is the musical accompaniment of a flute along their journey, as they ascend to the House of G-d.

When the landowners arrive with their fruits baskets to the Temple Courtyard, the Leviim sing: אֲרוֹמִמְךָ הכִּי דִלִּיתָנִי וְלֹא שִׂמַּחְתָּ אֹיְבַי לִיI will extol You, O Lord, for You have raised me up, and You have not let my enemies rejoice over me (Ps.30:2).

The mitzvah of Bikkurim is so important that the Medrash teaches us that the whole world was created for Bikkurim!

The opening words of Torah are בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ, which can be explained as: For ראשית Hashem created the heavens and the earth.  What is ‘for ראשית’?  Explains the Medrash: אֵין רֵאשִׁית אֶלָּא בִּכּוּרִיםFirst, ראשית, is none other than Bikkurim (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4).

For ראשית Hashem created the world, and this is for the sake of Bikkurim, which are called ראשית.

וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית כָּלפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר תָּבִיא מֵאַרְצְךָ, and you shall take from the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land (Devarim 26:2).

At face value, it is difficult to understand what is so fundamentally important about this mitzvah, that the sages teach that for this alone, Hashem created the world.

A well known explanation is that the mitzvah of Bikkurim represents the middah of hakaras ha’tov, recognition of the good that Hashem bestows upon us, and for this middah alone, it was worthy for Hashem to create the world.   When the farmer goes down to his field and sees the fig beginning to ripen, he ties around it a גמי, a reed, and declares, “Behold this (fruit) is Bikkurim” (Rashi to Devarim 26:2).  The bounty of the earth does not grow by the might and power of our hand, but by the benevolence of G-d.  It is the process of Bikkurim that expresses our recognition of this good, and our thanks to Hashem.

In fact, Rashi (to Devarim 26:3) teaches that when the landowner arrives in the Temple and recites the required passage before the Kohen, as he offers his first fruits, he is showing שֶׁאֵינְךָ כְּפוּי טוֹבָה, that he is not unappreciative.

With this week’s dvar Torah, I do not offer any insights that solve the mysteries or perplexities of the Torah, nor do I offer a unique or novel he’orah.  As 5780 comes to a close, and 5781 is soon to be ushered in, I simply offer reflections related to this unique Elul and the parsha.

Who could have imagined, last Tishrei, what this year would bring to the world?  Who might have fathomed a world pandemic that changed the way we live, interact, react, work, study, celebrate, and shop?  Who would have envisioned the batei k’nesios and batei medrashos having to close their doors for months – the sounds of tefila b’tzibur and Torah learning having ceased from their holy abodes?  Who would have imagined the lives lost, R”L…

For Bikkurim the world was created.  For the person who is makkir tov, who recognizes the good in his life, and expresses thanks to Hashem, the whole world was created.

When life becomes more challenging, confusing and confounding, when no one seems to have the right answers or solutions and we are all faced with the reality of this world, the עולם, where so much is נעלם, hidden from us, it is important to remember the mitzvah, and purpose, of Bikkurim.

We must always search for the blessings in life, for the goodness that Hashem bestows upon us, and for the recognition of that good.

Miriam Peretz, mother to two IDF soldiers killed in battle [Uriel (1976-1998) and Eliraz (1978-2010), HY”H], writes: “There’s nothing worse than losing two sons.  Yet I, who experienced the worst that could possibly happen, am busy all day long finding G-d’s kindness.  One day I decided to do an exercise.  I took a piece of paper and drew two columns.  At the top of the first I wrote “List of my complaints to G-d,” and for the second, “List of G-d’s Kindnesses.”  The first list was short: Uriel, Eliezer [Miriam’s husband, Eliezer, died at the age of 56 between the deaths of her sons], and Eliraz, who were all taken from me before their time.  The second list was practically endless: my daughter Bat-El got married, little Gili danced and sang at the wedding.  Uriel’s friend came to visit, my daughter-in-law Shlomit invited me to spend Shabbat at their home, despite a slipped disc I can still go up the stairs and climb up to my children’s graves, I can open my eyes, stand on my feet, enjoy the blossoming of the trees, laugh with my grandchildren and the list goes on and on.

“My dance with G-d has become a daily event.  I feel a deep connection to Him… I say, ‘Thanks for what I have right now.’  Not for the good that might come tomorrow or the next day, but for now.  I say, ‘Thanks G-d, for not forgetting me, for never being too busy for me. You’re always available to listen to my pain’” (Miriam’s Song, p.375-376).

As we usher out a complex, challenging, and trying year, let us pray that the new one brings only blessings upon our people, our Land and this world.  And while we yet long and pray for better days and times, let us remember that when we offer our first fruits, we must surely count our blessings.  For Bikkurim, the whole world was created.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal

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