SALT - Monday, 16 Elul 5776 - September 19, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The opening section of Parashat Ki-Tavo discusses the mitzva of bikkurim – bringing one’s first fruits to the Beit Ha-mikdash – and dictates the text of the mikra bikkurim declaration which was made when the fruits were brought.  This declaration briefly recounts the story of Benei Yisrael’s enslavement in Egypt and the Exodus, and then Benei Yisrael’s entry into the land.  The farmer then concludes, “And now, I have brought the first of the fruits of the land that the Lord has given me…” (26:10). 

            The simplest explanation of mikra bikkurim, perhaps, is that the farmer brings his first fruits to the Temple as a sharecropper tending to the owner’s fields brings the owner his portion before taking his own.  The farmer thus explains that he offers these fruits to God to demonstrate that the land is not his, that he tends to the fields and produces crops on the Almighty’s land, which he tills with the Almighty’s permission.  He tells how Am Yisrael were enslaved, and they earned their freedom and entered the land only through the intervention of God, who took the nation to be His servants in His land.  According to this approach, the mikra bikkurim proclamation essentially provides the background to the mitzva of bikkurim, as it explains that the farmer’s relationship to his fields is that of a sharecropper, and he brings the first fruits to the Master to express that is aware of who truly owns the land.

            Some, however, explained the brief historical account in mikra bikkurim differently.  It might, at first glance, appear strange that a farmer brings such a small “gift” to God upon the ripening of the fruits in his orchard.  Why, one might ask, is it legitimate to bring just a basket of fruits as a tribute to the King of the universe?  To answer this question, the farmer recalls that God took a helpless, oppressed nation from the depths of slavery and humiliation with great miracles, in order to bring them to His special land.  The purpose of this account is to show the importance of Am Yisrael’s residence in its land, a goal for which God performed extraordinary and unprecedented wonders.  If God regards Eretz Yisrael with such importance, than even a basket of the land’s produce is something significant and precious.

            We might sometimes wonder about the value and worth of our “small,” everyday mitzvot, what significance there could be in our observance of halakhic technicalities, or in our simple actions that Halakha demands.  The mikra bikkurim proclamation perhaps reminds us that even our seemingly small and minor “gifts” are immensely valuable.  If God Himself required us to offer such a “gift,” then it is precious, regardless of how small and insignificant it may at first appear.  We should never belittle the importance of even a “small basket,” the minor mitzvot that we fulfill over the course of the day, as each and every one is valuable and cherished by the Almighty.