Appropriate Gratitude

V’anisa v’amarta (Devarim 26:5)

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 Bais Hamikdash. There he presents them to a kohen as a sign of gratitude to Hashem for giving him a successful harvest. He then recites a declaration of appreciation for Hashem’s role in Jewish history. Rashi writes that this proclamation is made in a raised voice. Why does the Torah require the farmer to make this statement in a loud voice?

The following story will help us appreciate the answer to this question.

Amuka, located in the north of Israel, is the burial place of the Talmudic Sage Rebbi Yonasan ben Uziel. Amuka is famous for its mystical ability to help those who are longing to get married find their matches, and people travel there from around the world to pray for a spouse.

Although it is common for people to pray in Amuka with an intensity emanating from personal pain, somebody was once surprised to see a married woman praying there with great happiness. In her response to the onlooker’s curiosity about this, she taught a beautiful lesson.

“I had a very difficult time with dating. Somebody finally suggested that I travel to Amuka, where I poured my heart out in prayer. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to the man who is now my husband. I felt that if I came here to cry out from pain, it was only appropriate to return here to joyfully express my gratitude.”

The Sfas Emes explains that every person’s livelihood is dependent upon Hashem’s decree. Many times, this correlation is masked by events which make it appear that the person earned his income through his own creativity and perspiration. The farmer, on the other hand, has no difficulty recognizing that his financial situation is beyond his control and precariously rests in Hashem’s hands. As diligently as he plows and plants his land, he realizes that the success of each year’s crop depends upon the frequency and intensity of the rains, factors completely beyond his control. After putting in his own hard work, he prays fervently that the rains should come in the proper amounts and at the proper times.

When the farmer’s prayers are answered and he sees the first “fruits” of his labors, it would be easy for him to take credit for the successful harvest. The Torah requires him to bring his first fruits to the Temple as a reminder that his success comes from Hashem, and he must express the appropriate gratitude for His kindness.

One might incorrectly assume that mumbling a quick “thank you” under his breath suffices to fulfill this obligation. The Torah therefore teaches that in expressing appreciation, lip service is insufficient. The feelings of gratitude must be conveyed with the identical intensity with which one initially prayed. Just as the farmer screamed out with his entire heart beseeching Hashem to bless him with a bountiful harvest, so too must he express his thanks with the identical raised voice.

So many times we cry out to Hashem from the depths of our hearts for a desperately-needed salvation — to bear children, to find a spouse, to recover from illness, or for a source of livelihood. When our prayers are answered and the salvation comes, let us remember the lesson of the first fruits and loudly call out our thanks with the same intensity with which we prayed in our time of trouble.

Parashah Q & A

Q: 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. The Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4) that the world was created in the merit of three mitzvos, one of which is bikurim. Why is this mitzvah so great that it justified the creation of the entire universe?

Q: The Gemara in Taanis (8b) derives from 28:8 that blessing is only found in something which is hidden from view. Items and good news which are publicly flaunted are subject to being damaged by an ayin hara (evil eye). How does this concept work? If a person deserves something good, how can another person’s jealousy cause it to be taken away?

A: The Alshich Hakadosh explains that the mitzvah of bringing bikurim to the Bais Hamikdash teaches the concept of hakaras hatov — feeling and expressing appreciation for all the goodness and bounty that Hashem bestows upon us. The need to recognize that everything we have comes from Hashem and to transform this intellectual understanding into emotional feelings of appreciation is such a fundamental and essential concept that it justified the entire Creation.

A: Harav Eliyahu Dessler explains that when Hashem originally decided and decreed that somebody is entitled to something, He found the person worthy and meritorious to enjoy a certain personal benefit. However, if he uses the item in an ostentatious manner which causes pain or jealousy to others, Hashem makes a new calculation. Although the person was deserving of the pleasure for himself, the fact that his flaunting of it causes suffering to others must be taken into account. Although it is feasible that he will still be found meritorious, it is also quite possible that this new consideration will cause Hashem to decide that he no longer deserves the benefit as a consequence of the manner in which he uses it. As a result, the “evil eye” can indeed indirectly cause him to lose his blessing. He would be wise to take the advice of our Sages and enjoy it in a modest and private manner.


 

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.