Hinei heiveisi es reishis pri ha’adamah asher nasata li Hashem. V’hinachto lifnei Hashem Elokecha v’hishtachavisa lifnei Hashem Elokecha (Devarim 26:10)
A farmer is required to bring bikurim, the first ripened fruits of the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised, to the Temple in Yerushalayim, where he presents them to a Kohen as an expression of hakaras hatov — gratitude to Hashem for giving him a successful harvest.
The Midrash Tanchuma teaches that Moshe prophetically saw that the Beis Hamikdash would one day be destroyed, and it would no longer be possible to perform the mitzvah of bringing bikurim there. As a partial substitute for this mitzvah, Moshe enacted that the Jewish people should instead pray three times daily. This Midrash is difficult to understand. What is the connection between bikurim and prayer, two mitzvos that at first glance appear to be completely unrelated?
In his sefer Minchas Asher, Harav Asher Weiss points out that the concept of prostrating oneself appears several times in the Torah. When Yaakov encountered Esav in Parashas Vayishlach, Yaakov, his wives and his children attempted to pacify the irate Esav by bowing down to him in a display of submission (Bereishis 33:1–7), just as somebody who meets the king or queen in many cultures is required to bow down as an acknowledgment of their power and dominion.
The Torah also records (Bereishis 24:52) that when Eliezer succeeded in finding Rivkah as a wife for Yitzchak, he prostrated himself on the ground to Hashem. Similarly, when the Jewish people in Egypt heard from Moshe and Aharon that they would soon be redeemed from their bitter enslavement, they bowed down and prostrated themselves (Shemos 4:31). In these two cases, the bowing was not an expression of subservience, but rather of appreciation to Hashem.
Rav Weiss notes that in Shemoneh Esrei, there are two blessings in which we are required to bow: the first blessing of “Magen Avraham,” and the penultimate blessing known as “Modim.” Our bowing in these two blessings represents the two different types of prostration. As we begin to address Hashem in the first blessing, we immediately bow as a sign of submission. Toward the end of our prayers, we bow again in the blessing of “Modim” as an expression of thanksgiving for all of the good that Hashem continuously does for us.
Applying this dichotomy to the mitzvah of bikurim, when the Torah commands the farmer to bring his first-fruits to the Temple and prostrate himself, to which type of bowing is it referring — submissiveness or gratitude? Tosafos (Sukkah 47b) writes that while the Kohen waved the bikurim, the farmer bowed down as a part of the ceremony. Since showing hakaras hatov is one of the central themes of the mitzvah of bikurim (Chinuch 606), this bowing down is an expression of appreciation.
However, the Vilna Gaon disagrees and writes in Aderes Eliyahu that the farmer’s prostration is not an integral component of the bikurim ceremony, but rather it is due to a separate law which requires a person to bow down before leaving the Beis Hamikdash and departing from the presence of the Shechinah. According to this explanation, the bowing down is a demonstration of subservience.
The Gemara teaches (Eiruvin 13b) that whenever there are legitimate disputing opinions, both are considered valid expressions of Hashem’s Will. Accordingly, the farmer’s prostration when performing the mitzvah of bringing bikurim to the Temple contains within it aspects of both submission and thanksgiving to Hashem.
With this introduction, Rav Weiss explains that the Midrash teaches that when Moshe prophetically saw that the ability to perform the mitzvah of bikurim would be lost when the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, he was disturbed that we would no longer be able to bow down to Hashem to express our submission and gratitude to Him. Therefore, Moshe enacted that we should instead use the medium of praying Shemoneh Esrei thrice daily as a replacement, since it also offers us the opportunity to bow at the beginning to humbly acknowledge Hashem as our King, and to bow near the end to show our thanks for all that He does for us constantly.
Q: Each of the curses which were to be read at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival is written in the present tense except for the curse (27:15) against one who will make a graven image, which is written in the future tense. Why is this curse different?
A: Harav Noach Mindes and the Toras Chaim cite the Gemara in Kiddushin (40a), which teaches that Hashem is not metzaref a machshavah l’maaseh. In other words, when a Jew has a thought about sinning, Hashem doesn’t consider it as if he has already done the sin until he actually does it. However, the Gemara adds that if his thoughts involve the sin of idolatry, he is punished for the thoughts as if he had already acted upon them. Therefore, all of the curses are written in the present tense because a person isn’t punished for sinning until he actually does so. However, the curse which discusses making a graven image, which is a form of idolatry, is written in the future tense to teach that somebody will receive this curse merely for thinking about making an idol in the future, even though he has yet to commit the actual sin.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.