First-Fruits and Prayer: Maintaining Jewish Identity

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



First Fruits and Prayer: Maintaining Jewish Identity

Summarized by Dov Karoll

The Torah's discussion of bikkurim, the first fruits brought to the Temple (Devarim 26:1-11), places great emphasis on thanks to God. This is not merely thanks for the produce, but rather a full recognition of the history of the Jewish people up to and including the entry to the land. Accordingly, this declaration expresses identification with Jewish history as well as recognition of one's part in it, emphasizing the individual's connection with the Jewish people throughout the generations.

Midrash Tanchuma (Ki Tavo, 1) explains that Moshe anticipated that the Temple would be destroyed, and that bikkurim would be discontinuted. Accordingly, he established that the Jewish people pray three times daily, for prayer is more beloved before God than any other action or offering. The element of identification with the Jewish people mentioned above holds true for prayer as well as for bikkruim. In the course of our prayers, the emphasis is clearly on the Jewish people as a whole. First, our requests are always formulated in the plural. Second, the requests themselves emphasize the national element: we ask for God to save us (Goel Yisrael), to gather in our exiles (Mekabbetz niddechei ammo Yisrael), to restore justice (Hashiva shofetenu), to rebuild Jerusalem (Ve-li-Yerushalayim), and so on. Through our prayers we can also gain an appreciation of our connection to the Jewish people and to the land of Israel.

But what can we do for people who do not pray three times a day? How are they to maintain Jewish identity? We need always to assure that there are ways for people to maintain this identification with the Jewish people, so that they remain part of the Jewish collective.


Over recent years, this feeling of connection to the Jewish people has waned. The dream of many Israelis was that we become a nation like any other nation. Over the course of this last, difficult year, it has become clear again to people that the Jewish people is not a normal nation; rather, we are an "am levadad yishkon," a nation that dwells alone (Bemidbar 23:9). If we cannot learn this lesson on our own, then God teaches it to us the hard way. May it be His will that we should learn this lesson, and that God should have compassion on us and redeem us.

(This sicha was originally delivered on leil Shabbat, Parashat Ki Tavo, 5761 [2001].)


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