A couple of years ago, we hosted a guest for a Shabbos meal. At the end, we passed around benchers for Birkas HaMazon from our collection of benchers at weddings we attended. One guest looked at his bencher and said, “Hey, this was my wedding bencher!” Oops! We felt bad, as he was recently divorced. Subsequently, we removed any wedding benchers relating to couples who got divorced.
Many of the circumstances of the Giving of the Torah suggest an association between it and a marriage. The Gemara  says that Hashem suspended Har Sinai on top of Klal Yisrael. Some commentaries explain that this was the wedding chuppah (canopy) for the Jewish nation. The mountain was adorned with pretty flowers, as is the custom for a chuppah. Hashem was the Chosson, and Klal Yisrael was the Kallah. The gifting of the Torah was what effected the marriage. Hence, Shavuos represents the union of Klal Yisrael with Hashem.
However, the marriage “honeymoon” was seemingly short lived. Just forty days later, Moshe descended the mountain with the Luchos (Tablets). Upon seeing the Jewish people dancing around the golden calf, Moshe threw down the Luchos and smashed them!
The Gemara  says that the broken pieces of the first Luchos were placed in the Aron (Ark) along with the second Luchos which Moshe later brought down. The smashing of the Luchos is almost similar to a marriage that ended with divorce. Why is Hashem keeping the bencher from the wedding that resulted in divorce?
There are two additional Yomim Tovim which have an element of receiving the Torah: Yom Kippur, when Moshe came down with the second set of Luchos, and Purim, when Klal Yisrael “re-accepted” the Torah…out of love.  Why in Kiddush and Shemoneh Esrei do we refer to the Yom Tov of Shavuos as “Zman Matan Torah” – the time of the giving of the Torah? After all, that union was seemingly severed. Maybe we should put away the Zman Matan Torah bencher that has the wedding date of Shavuos and instead label Yom Kippur or Purim as Zman Matan Torah?
As Rav Gedaliah Schorr  explains, the fact that Hashem told Moshe to place the broken pieces of the first Luchos together with the second Luchos demonstrates that the smashing of the Luchos was not a divorce. It was just a reaction to a bad mess-up and Klal Yisrael had to repair the relationship.
Rav Wolbe  says people mistakenly think that Shalom Bayis – a peaceful relationship in a home – occurs when two people have the same opinions and feelings; they’re always on the same page. The true meaning of Shalom Bayis is when people with different opinions and feelings manage to make peace and harmony between themselves. For a couple to have Shalom Bayis means they are able to learn from each other, work out their differences, and thereby live happily together.
The Jewish nation had a lot of work to do in order to get back together with Hashem after the sin with the golden calf. Moshe was able to work with Klal Yisrael to help restore their connection with Hashem. The first Luchos were kept together with the second Luchos in the Aron because they demonstrated the growth of the relationship. The pieces of the first Luchos represent a reminder that our bond with Hashem was not permanently damaged because of Klal Yisrael’s bad behavior, but rather it became deeper and stronger because of it.
Although Yom Kippur and Purim have elements of Kabbalas HaTorah, we celebrate Matan Torah on Shavuos since the marriage truly was on Shavuos. The other events just mark times when the relationship was restored.
Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky once told me that each year we should experience Shavuos as a new Kabbalas HaTorah. It’s a time to focus on developing a deep internal connection with Hashem and with the Torah He gifted to us.
Everyone has their ups and downs. Sometimes we falter and fail. The fact that we celebrate Shavuos as Kabbalas HaTorah demonstrates that the bond which Hashem created with us on Shavuos is eternal and can never be severed. Whatever we might have done in the interim, Hashem always waits for us to repair the relationship. Thereafter, the area in which we failed will be placed alongside our subsequent achievement, just as the broken pieces of the Luchos were placed together with the second Luchos.
 Shabbos 88a
 Bava Basra 14b
 Shabbos 88a
 Ohr Gedalyahu Moadim; Shavuos p. 80
 Alei Shur Vol. 2
Elimelech makes a fleeting, but significant appearance in the Book of Ruth. It begins by describing him anonymously as a man from Beis Lechem Yehuda who leaves Eretz Yisrael with his family, in a time of famine to sojourn in Moav. The second verse reveals his name as Elimelech, who Chazal tell us, was from the Tribe of Yehuda and was a descendant of Nachshon Ben Aminadav. The Navi continues to tell us that his two sons married Moavite women, and tragically, Elimelech and his sons soon perished.
Chazal explain that Elimelech was very wealthy and was the Parnas hador (the one who provided for the people). However, when the famine struck, he fled the country because he knew that many people would come to him for help and he chose to avoid that pressure by leaving. As a result, he was punished with death. The question arises, the Gemara states that it is permitted for a person to leave Eretz Yisrael in the time of famine. Why then, was he treated so harshly, when his behavior was permitted?
The answer given is that Elimelech was no ordinary person – he was the provider of the generation. Therefore, he was held to a stricter judgment than regular people. He was the person who had the ability and responsibility to remain and help the people even if it meant undergoing his own hardship. Moreover, he was from the Tribe of Yehuda and he knew that the Kingship and ultimately the Moshiach, would arise from that line. Indeed, his name means, ‘to me is the Kingship’. This symbolizes that he felt that he was destined to be the progenitor of what became the Malchus Beis David, (the Kingdom of the House of David). Thus, he had a sense of entitlement, which makes his wrongdoing greater. In Torah, any position of power, comes with heightened responsibility, not just greater honor. Elimelech wanted greatness, but when the situation became difficult, he was not willing to take the responsibility that accompanies the perks of power. With this background, we can understand why he was punished so harshly for leaving the land, even though it was technically permitted. His position of prestige meant that he was judged more severely than a regular person, for whom it would be permitted to leave the land in a time of famine.
It is possible to add that Elimelech is also put in a negative light when compared to his illustrious ancestor, Nachson Ben Aminadav. Nachson was the first person to step into the Yam Suf, before it split, and whose actions played a vital role in defining the line of Yehuda as the family of Malchus.
The Tosefta tells us that at the Yam Suf, all the tribes were arguing about who should step into the sea first, each one trying to avoid the responsibility to take the first brave steps. Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped into the sea and sanctified G-d’s name. The Tosefta explains that this was one of the actions that earned the tribe of Yehuda the merit of being the tribe of Malchus (kingship), which in turn would produce Moshiach. Nachshon took responsibility at a difficult time, when everyone was afraid to enter the sea, on the hope that it would split, and this generated the merit to lead to the Kingship. Elimelech faced his own challenge of responsibility and failed, instead choosing to escape the responsibility. Consequently, he lost the opportunity to be the progenitor of the Malchus.
Elimelech had a relative who also features in Megillah Ruth, who succeeded where Elimelech failed – Boaz. Where do we see this? Firstly, it is evident from the fact that Boaz was also a person who people relied on financially, as is seen in the episodes involving his kindness with his fields. Yet, unlike Elimelech he remains in the land despite the famine, and continues to help people as much as possible.
Secondly, the incident involving the redemption of Elimelech’s property, and marriage to his daughter-in-law demonstrates Boaz’ ability to take responsibility. As we have discussed in another article, Ploni Almoni refused the opportunity to marry Ruth because of an unfounded fear that a future Beis Din may rule that it is forbidden to marry a female Moavite convert. His underlying motives were a level of selfishness and unwillingness to take a difficult step. The consequence of his actions is that he is confined to anonymity. Boaz, in contrast, did not hesitate to marry Ruth despite the naysayers and critics. The result, was the birth of Ehud, who in turn had Yishai, to whom David HaMelech was born. Thus, in the same way that Nachshon’s brave action of taking responsibility bore tremendous fruit, so too did Boaz’s bold actions.
We have seen from the strict punishment that befell Elimelech that positions of power come with heightened responsibility – Elimelech strove to be the forebearer of Malchus but was not willing to undergo the mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) required to be a leader. Boaz, in contrast, readily assumed the mantle of leadership and merited to be the progenitor of Moshiach. Their contrasting examples teach us that as intoxicating positions of power and honor may be, they invariably required a heightened sense of responsibility and self-sacrifice.
 Tosefta, Brachos, C h.4, Halacha 16.
 One opinion in Chazal says that he was Elimelech’s younger brother (Ruth Rabbah, 6:2), and another (Bava Basra, 91a), says that he was Elimelech’s nephew.
 Ploni Almoni – Good but not Great.
The Five Books of Moses tell the story of deferred promises, of obstacles that prevent the realization of expectations. Our forefathers are ever on the way, and it seems they will never reach the Promised Land. But finally, near the end of Deuteronomy, in the description of the ritual of first fruits, the ending is divulged:
And it shall be, when you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance – and possess it, and dwell therein – that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground.… “And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand.… And He has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which You, O Lord, have given me.” And you shall set it down.… And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given you. (Deuteronomy 26:1–11)
The above verses are laden with future-tense verbs: possess, dwell, take, set down. The mitzva of bringing first fruits to the Temple is portrayed as a continuation of the conquest and settlement of the land. Thus, the tone is not imperative or legalistic, but rather fits into the description of future life in the Promised Land. Bringing first fruits is an inseparable part of the happy ending to the people’s desert wanderings, a personal expression of rejoicing and thanks over the fulfillment of the divine promise, a state of fairytale bliss: “And they lived happily ever after.”
Every year, those who bring first fruits recap the entire story – from the descent into Egypt until the Exodus and the salvation from bondage. The bringer tells it all in the first person, as a personal story, thus fulfilling the Mishna’s imperative: “a person must see himself as though he [personally] had gone out of Egypt” (Pesaĥim 10:5). Every year, we experience the story anew.
The Mishna also emphasizes individual experience when it comes to bringing the fruits themselves:
How does one designate the first fruits? One goes into one’s field and sees a fruit-bearing fig tree, a fruit-bearing [grape]vine, or a fruit-bearing pomegranate tree, and ties it [the fruit] with a string and says, “Behold, these are first fruits.” Rabbi Shimon says, even so, one reiterates and declares them first fruits once they have been picked from the ground. (Bikkurim 3:1)
Our mishna’s style is reminiscent of the biblical verses, in that it relates a story rather than a halakhic imperative. Like the verses, it is organized around a series of actions – “goes into,” “sees,” “ties,” and “says” – and like the verses, it is hard to distinguish between mere description and the halakhic imperative mood. “Behold, these are first fruits” can just as easily be a description of the reality of “a fruit-bearing fig tree” as it is a halakhic declaration. A naïve reader of our mishna would not conclude that the declaration, “Behold, these are first fruits,” has halakhic implications.
The Mishna describes the special moment where a farmer first sees the fruits of his labor. According to the Mishna, the fruits that one dedicates for first fruits are determined not by external measures, but rather by one’s personal outlook. As in the Bible, this emphasizes the commandment’s personal and subjective side. Rabbi Shimon defines the fruit dedicated to first fruits based on two moments – when they are seen and when they are picked. The first Tanna in our mishna, in contrast, defines it solely based on the moving moment when the farmer first sees the fruits – unlike most agricultural commandments, there is no requirement to wait for the harvest.
The first year that first fruits were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, everyone was immensely excited. The Mishna’s emphasis on one’s emotions in the moment when one finds the first fruits in one’s field helps to maintain those feelings of discovery, freshness, and renewal every year. When one brings the first fruits to the Temple, one brings produce that is charged with emotion, and thus can express, simply and completely, his joy over the fulfillment of God’s promise in his life.
Bikkurim, chapter 3
With first fruits, on the face of it, it appears as though the person is the giver and God is the receiver. However, if we examine the verses regarding first fruits, we learn that although giving is mentioned many times, the roles are reversed, and it is God who gives to humans. The bringing of first fruits, in contrast, is not described as “giving”:
And it shall be, when you come into the land that the Lord Your God is giving you for an inheritance – and possess it, and dwell therein – that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground.… “And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand.… And He has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which You, O Lord, have given me.” And you shall set it down.… And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given you. (Deuteronomy 26:1–11)
As we explained above, the bringing of first fruits to the Temple is meant to express the happiness and joy of one who has seen God’s promises fulfilled. In other words, the focus of the commandment is God’s giving to man, not vice versa. This point is put into starker relief when the Mishna describes the bringing of first fruits to the Temple:
A bull would go before them, whose horns would be plated with gold, and it would have an olive wreath around its head. The flute would play before them until they neared Jerusalem. Once they neared Jerusalem, they would send [a messenger] ahead of them and adorn their first fruits. The overseers and the officers and the treasurers would go out to greet them; in accordance with the stature of those coming in would they go out. All the artisans of Jerusalem would stand before them and greet them, “Our brothers from such and such place, come in peace!” (Bikkurim 3:3)
First Fruits are brought to the Temple in a picturesque procession, accompanied by musicians and gold-adorned animals. As soon as the procession arrives at the big city, it is greeted by dignitaries, and residents stand in its honor, as they would before an elder or a sage. There is of course no correlation between the monetary value of the first fruits and the honor that its bringers are accorded.
The key to understanding this procession lies in grasping the importance of first fruits, not as mere fruit, but as a symbol of life in which the divine promise has been actualized. The rejoicing of the people of Jerusalem upon seeing the bringers, and the honor that they heap on them, is the final detail in the scene described by the Mishna of the first-fruits procession:
The flute would continue playing before them until they arrived at the Temple Mount. Once they arrived at the Temple Mount, even Agripas the king would carry his basket on his shoulder and enter until he reached the courtyard. Once they got to the courtyard, the Levites would speak in song (Psalms 30:2), “I will extol you, O Lord, because you have raised me and not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me.” (Bikkurim 3:4)
Bringers of first fruits would have to enter the Temple with a basket on their shoulders. The importance of the positioning of the bringer as part of the ceremony implies that when one brings the fruits to the Temple, one is in fact showing oneself before God. Furthermore, when one would enter the courtyard, the Levites would not sing about the fruits but rather about the human realm: “I will extol you, O Lord, because you have raised me.” The focus is the person, and the fruits are merely a means to express the joy in that person’s life.
How do they bring up the first fruits [to Jerusalem]? All the cities of a region would go into the [central] city of that region and sleep in the streets of that city without going into the houses. When they arose, the supervisor would say, “Arise! Let us go up to Zion, to the house of the Lord our God.” (Bikkurim 3:2)
The mishna opens by asking how the people would “bring up the first fruits” and ends with the statement “Let us go up to Zion, to the house of the Lord our God.” At first the fruits are brought up, and then the people are elevated ever higher.
 In this context, the description of the mitzva of first fruits can be contrasted with the description of the tithe: “When you have made an end of tithing all the tithe of your increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, so that they may eat within your gates, and be satisfied, then you shall say before the Lord your God: ‘I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow’” (Deuteronomy 26:12–13).
“And They Lived Happily Ever After”
The Torah is full of stories about deferred promises, obstacles that prevent expectations from being fulfilled. Our forefathers are always on the path, their rest and contentment not even on the horizon. But then, near the end of Deuteronomy, we learn about bikkurim, and the ending of the story is given away:
And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and dost possess it, and dwell therein; that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground…. “And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand…. And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O Lord, hast given me.” And thou shalt set it down…. And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee. (Deut. 26:1–6)
The above verses are laden with future-tense verbs: possess, dwell, take, set down. The mitzva of bringing bikkurim to the Temple is portrayed as a continuation of the conquering and settlement of the land. Thus, the tone is not imperative or legalistic, but rather fits into the description of future life in the Promised Land. Bringing bikkurim is an inseparable part of the happy ending to the people’s desert wanderings, an expression of rejoicing and thanks over the fulfillment of the divine promise, a state of fairytale bliss: “And they lived happily ever after.”
While on the face of it, the person is the giver and God is on the receiving end – and indeed giving is mentioned multiple times in the verses – it is God who is giving to the person:
And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance… “…and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O Lord, hast given me.” And thou shalt set it down…. And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee.
The Lord is the giver, and the person receives and brings bikkurim to the Temple, in an expression of joy over those gifts.
Joy Is in the Present
Judaism is often occupied with memory of the past and anticipation of the future. One can learn from the past, and it is good to know what future to strive for, but one cannot overlook the present. The ability to focus on the present and the capacity for joy are closely related. The statement “Everything will be okay” is not a blessing – not only because it denies the good that already exists in the present, but because it also negates the future good. Those who ignore the present in favor of future hopes may not notice when all the good they yearned for comes to pass.
Yet, the link between the present and joy is even more profound. A person’s capacity to be present in the present, to be aware of the moment and work with it, is the capacity to experience life itself, for only the moment is where life happens. A direct connection to life is the basis for joy. It is apparent that when we are happy we feel full of life, and when we are sad we are bereft of life. Joy over our reality in the here and now is what we learn from bikkurim:
[A]nd hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O Lord, hast given me…. And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house.
Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen is the Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue and Beit Midrash for Judaism and Humanity.