Thursday, August 26, 2010

first fruits

We interrupt our series on mitzvah haba’ah b’aveira because someone asked me to write a parsha idea. The Midrash Tanchuma teaches:

אלא צפה משה ברוח הקודש וראה שבית המקדש עתיד ליחרב והבכורים עתידין ליפסק, עמד והתקין לישראל שיהיו מתפללין שלשה פעמים בכל יום, לפי שחביב תפלה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא מכל מעשים טובים ומכל הקורבנות

Moshe prophetically saw that the Beis haMikdash would be destroyed and the mitzvah of bikkurim, of bringing first fruits, would cease. He therefore instituted that we daven three times a day because prayer is even more beloved than good deeds and korbanos.

We’ve discussed this Midrash before, but there is always room to say more. The difficulties are striking:
1) Many mitzvos cannot be done without a Beis haMikdash. Why was Moshe concerned specifically with the loss of the mitzvah of bikurim more than the loss of any other mitzvos?
2) How does davening three times a day serve as a substitute for bikurim?
3) Why did Moshe feel a need to make plans now because of a churban that would only occur hundreds of years down the road? Why didn’t he leave it to the sages and Nevi’im of that time to make the necessary arrangements?

The Mishna describes in great detail the process of designating fruit as bikurim. It tells us that the farmer would go out into his field, “Ro’eh te’eina she’bikra…,” he would see a newly ripened fig, and he would place a tie around it to remind him that it was the first fruit to ripen and should be brought to the Mikdash. The Mishna seems unusually verbose. Obviously the farmer must first, “ro’eh te’eina she’bikra,” see the ripened fruit, in order to perform the mitzvah of bikurim! Why does the Mishna, which is always written in the most concise manner, need to spell out this basic detail?

I think the answer is that the mitzvah of bikurim is not just about first fruits, but it’s also about perspective. To many people the credo, “Same old, same old,” sums up life. They neither see anything new that happens, or, in many cases, don’t wish to see anything new that would upset the cycle they are used to.

The first step to bikurim is to be a “ro’eh,” to see those new first fruits. It’s not “same old, same old.” Like the farmer who is “ro’eh te’eina she’bikra,” we need to open our eyes to the new opportunities that await us each day and we need to act on them as soon as they ripen.

Of course the loss of the Beis haMikdash would bring about the loss of opportunity to perform many mitzvos, but what Moshe found especially troubling was the loss of bikurim. Without a reminder that each day brings with it new opportunities for renewal, there is the danger of growing complacent, of seeing only the “same old, same old” and becoming accommodated to galus. Without bikurim there can be no belief in the possibility of a new Beis haMikdash.

Tefilah is the antidote to the loss of bikurim-perspective. A person davens shacharis and goes off to the daily grind. A few hours later it’s mincha time. “I just davened these same words a few hours earlier?!” thinks Mr. Same-old. And he thinks the same thoughts again a few hours later when the clock strikes time for ma’ariv. Looking through our bikurim-perspective we can appreciate that the words may indeed be the same, but the tefilah is a completely different experience. How many new things have happened between morning and afternoon that should cause us to reflect, to turn to Hashem for guidance! Davening not once, not twice, but three times a day, at different points during the day, forces us to reflect on the new opportunities and challenges, the new fruit, that constantly arise.

It’s not just any fruit that can be brought to the Beis haMikdash, but it must be the first fruit. There is something special about “firsts” – we are attracted to newness. There is only one first time to do something, and often that first sets the tone for all else that follows. It was precisely for this reason, consistent with the message of bikurim, that Moshe used this opportunity to plan the means to preserve the spirit of bikurim even in the time of their physical absence. Bnei Yisrael were about to take their first steps as a nation on the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael. In the not too distant future they would undertake their first effort to build a Beis haMikdash. Moshe did not want to wait for the eventual destruction of that Mikdash and rely on others to make plans for survival without bikurim – he wanted to seize this initial moment, this “first,” and build into it the potential for continuity.

We need not wait until Rosh haShana, the beginning of a new year, to seize the opportunity for change. Bikurim, opportunities to begin anew, are constantly growing all around us, waiting to be seen, waiting to be plucked, waiting to be brought to our personal mikdash, that which is holy in our lives.


  1. Anonymous2:25 PM

    any chance you can make a post to explain the milk controversy. or can someone put a link to someone who did a good job of explaining it?

  2. I don't know much about it and don't know who has written about it either.

  3. I heard a nice explanation of the midrash from my father. That midrash also says that when we offer bikkurim it is also demanding of G-d that we return next year with bikkurim. So when we bring bikkurim, we communicate with G-d. Davening is also communicating with G-d. Moshe instituted davening 3 times a day to demonstrate that we should always have communication with G-d. (we can add that Moshe himself instituted it and he didn't wait until the chachamim of the generation of the churban so that even people who didn't own land from which to bring bikkurim should learn this lesson, which was applicable immediately, and not wait until the churban.)

  4. Why is bikurim more of an act of communicating with G-d than bringing korbanos? Than aliya la'regel? etc.

  5. Becasue, as I mentioned, "That midrash also says that when we offer bikkurim it is also demanding of G-d that we return next year with bikkurim." I am not aware that when we offer any other korban, a prayer or demand of Hashem "that we bring this korban again next year" is part of it.

  6. Interesting that you mention that Medrash. Reb Chaim Kanievsky recently asked someone, how many times do you bring bikkurim from a tree? Answer: Once. Not every year, only once per tree. I guess he got this from the Yerushalmi in Bikurim 1:7, but it's a big surprise, at least to me. A buyer, though, would bring, maybe read, maybe not.