In this week’s parsha, we come across the mitzva of Bikkurim. Chazal comment in Breishis Rabbah on the pasuk of “Breishis Bara Elokim” that the world was created solely for the mitzva of Bikkurim. The question is, why? What ‘s so special about the mitzva of Bikkurim? And furthermore, nowadays we don’t have the Bikkurim of the Beis Hamikdash, so is this saying that we’re currently unable to fulfill the purpose of creation?
Furthermore, it says in Sifri that Klal Yisrael was zocheh to enter the Eretz Yisrael because of the mitzva of Bikkurim. Again, why was this mitzva so special, and what’s the specific connection between this mitzva and entering into Eretz Yisrael?
The to these questions lies in the foundation of the mitzva of Bikkurim. The mitzva wasn’t just to give fruit to the Ribbono Shel Olam, rather the mitzva was to give the first fruit. Why? Chazal tell us that a person would spend his whole year working on these fruit, putting so much time and effort into growing them and sustaining them. One morning he would walk past them and finally see the fruits of his labor. The desire to pluck off that fruit and take a bite would be so great. This fruit, it’s his baby! And yet its specifically this fruit which he’s commanded to bring as Bikkurim. We see that the yesod behind Bikkurim isn’t just giving something you own. Rather, it’s giving the thing you cherish most. When a person pours so much effort into something, it becomes a part of him. That desire to then reap the benefits of his labor is so strong and powerful. That desire is all funneled into that first fruit. And its specifically this fruit he brings for Hashem.
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos says that a goal of a person is to nullify his desires in favor of Hashem’s. We’re here to do Hashem’s will, to become closer to Him through serving Him. That may sometimes mean that we have to do things which we don’t want. But nevertheless, just as a servant would do anything a king would request, so too we do everything Hashem commands us, even if it runs contrary to our desires. This concept is the yesod of the Bikkurim. The mitzva was a representation that even though one may have his own desires, in the end of the day we give up everything to serve Hashem.
Bikkurim aren’t physically around today. We can’t go and give offer up our first fruits at the Beis Hamikdash. However, the underlying principle of nullifying our desire to serve Hashem will always exist. The ability to put all our efforts into something, to desire it so much yet to give it away for Hashem, that does still exist.
That’s the yesod behind Bikkurim and that’s the explanation of Chazal. This world wasn’t just created for the actual giving of the Bikkurim at the Beis Hamikdash; rather it was created for us to funnel all of our desires into serving our Creator. This is also the pshat in the Sifri. Klal Yisrael only entered Eretz Yisrael because of this mitzva, for at that time they were about to experience the “eretz zavas chalav u’dvash” and acquire many things of Gashmius and Olam Hazeh. For this Hashem needed to give the mitzvah of Bikkurim, so we would recognize and realize that even amidst the pleasures of this world, we can never lose sight of what’s really important. As a result, we were given the mitzva to channel our desire into a gift for Hashem.
Rosh Hashana is nearly here. Chazal say that when Klal Yisrael would bring Bikkurim, they would bow in front of Hashem and in that moment there was no separation between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael. When one would give himself to Hashem in such a way, he would connect to Hashem on the highest plateau imaginable. Elul and the climax of Rosh Hashana is all about connecting. We want to show Hashem that we deserve another year of life, health and wealth (in every category). But why do we deserve such a thing? Who says we should have these things?
We answer these questions with our actions. By showing Hashem that everything we have is for Him. From our most cherished possessions to what we barely care about, everything we use for a connection. If we really care, and we really work on showing Hashem that we try as hard as we can to grow closer to Him, we can hopefully merit a good judgement and have a successful year.
I recently attended a seudas hoda’ah—a meal of thanks to Hashem—hosted by a friend. His family had experienced an extremely challenging year, with accidents and health issues. Thankfully all are well now. The teenage son, who was involved in two accidents, thanked Hashem publicly for the two miracles he experienced. He told us how he heard from a rebbe that he should accept upon himself a small commitment to express gratitude to Hashem. After the first accident he accepted upon himself to be vigilant about not speaking while someone recites Kaddish. After the second accident, he accepted upon himself to recite Birkas Hamazon (blessing after a meal) from a siddur/bentcher rather than from memory.
These were small commitments, but each can be challenging to do consistently! I was so impressed that a young man understood that small but firm actions of commitment are the road to progress.
This lesson is taught in Parshas Ki Seitzei, with the mitzvah to remember Amalek. The Torah stresses that Amalek attacked us while we were traveling on the road. What was so terrible about the “on-the-road” aspect? Rashi points out the word “karcha” is used to describe Amalek approaching klal Yisrael to attack them. The root of the word is kar, cold. After the splitting of the sea, klal Yisrael was untouchable. The nations of the world were terrified of us. Yet, Amalek attacked us specifically to break the image of our being invincible, to “cool down” the other nations’ fear of us. The Midrash compares this to a bubbling hot bath; the first person to jump in gets scalded, but the water is somewhat cooler for the next person.
Amelek does not just represent a nation; it’s an attitude of “cooling down” that pulls us away from Hashem. At times we may get excited by an inspiring event or a shiur or dvar Torah we read. But that inspiration can be fleeting! If we don’t act on it we may cool down and lose that excitement. This is the message of asher karcha baderech for us: continuing on our regular day-to-day course cools us down over time. The only way to keep our fire and inspiration for connecting with Hashem going is to make a positive commitment. Just like my friend’s son did, we need to stop for a moment and change course ever so slightly so we can use the momentary inspiration for actual change.
Another detail the Torah stresses about Amalek is their attacking the individuals traveling in the rear of the group. Amelek could not attack klal Yisrael directly; we were surrounded by the “Clouds of Glory” that created a force field that intercepted every arrow. The only people Amalek was able to attack were those few people who had been expelled from the protection of the Clouds of Glory because of serious sins.
But was Amalek so evil in attacking these sinners? After all, one may argue they created their own fate. It’s not so simple…
I had the privilege of driving Rabbi Yaakov Bender back home to Far Rockaway after giving a shiur at our yeshiva. As we were passing Rikers Island, the famed jail, Rabbi Bender said, “It’s so unfortunate; there are so many Jews incarcerated there.” I was a little taken aback, and asked him, “If someone was incarcerated incorrectly, that’s unfortunate. But those individuals who committed crimes are there for a reason. Why do you feel bad for them?”
“Yes,” Rabbi Bender replied, “but it’s still sad that they are incarcerated and we should still have feelings for them.”
This idea totally expanded my concept of ahavas Yisrael—loving every Jew—to include even loving sinners. Yes, they committed crimes and are being punished. But we still need to care about them. Hashem cares about every Jew, even considering Amalek evil for attacking those who sinned.
Not everyone makes the right decisions or acts properly at all times. Anyone can make a bad decision at a given time. But he’s still a fellow Jew and we still need to feel for him.
This message is one of the keys to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. We are going to plead to Hashem to judge us favorably. Hashem will take out the video and replay our actions from last year. In some cases we will be ashamed to watch. We want and need Hashem to look favorably on us. Rav Moshe Cordevero tells us that the way we relate to others is how Hashem relates to us. Although we might have committed certain sins, we still want Hashem to have compassion on us.
Let’s start with that concept. Recognize that we all need to be forgiven for one or more past actions, so we should take the initiative and open compassionate hearts to those around us. Hashem in turn will do the same for us.