V’lakachta mereishis kol pri ha’adamah asher tavi me’artzecha asher Hashem Elokecha nosen lach v’samta vateneh v’halachta el hamakom asher yivchar Hashem Elokecha leshaken Shemo sham (Devarim 26:2)
Parashas Ki Savo begins with the mitzvah of bikurim (26:1-11), which requires a farmer to bring the first ripened fruits of the seven species for which Eretz Yisrael is praised to the Beis Hamikdash and express gratitude to Hashem for giving him a successful harvest.
However, in commanding the farmer to bring these fruits, the Torah says that he must bring “mereishis kol pri ha’adamah” — from the first of every fruit of the ground. As most fruits grow on trees, this expression seems imprecise. Wouldn’t it have been more accurate to stipulate that he shall bring mereishis kol pri ha’eitz — from the first of every fruit of the tree?
Harav Eliezer Waldenberg (Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 15:16) used this linguistic anomaly as support for a tremendous chiddush. He discusses whether the mitzvah of bikurim is an annual mitzvah that a farmer must perform with the first fruits of each year’s produce, or whether it is a mitzvah he does once in his lifetime to thank Hashem for his land, at which point he is exempt from doing it again unless he acquires another field in the future?
Since most people take it for granted that bikurim is a yearly mitzvah, it sounds surprising to even entertain the other possibility. However, Rav Waldenberg, who was renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge, writes that there is no explicit source in Chazal saying that bikurim must be brought every year, and from the fact that they do not refer to it as an annual mitzvah, we may deduce that a farmer only needs to bring bikurim once.
The Tzitz Eliezer suggests that this chiddush is rooted in a Biblical verse, as the Torah says, “You shall take from the first of every fruit of the adamah.” Even though it would have been more accurate to write “from the first of every fruit of the eitz,” had the Torah done so, we would make the mistake of thinking that the mitzvah of bikurim is incumbent upon each tree and must be brought annually.
To prevent us from reaching this erroneous conclusion, the Torah went out of its way to refer to “the first fruits of the adamah” to teach us that the mitzvah is connected to the land, and once a farmer has brought bikurim from a field, that field becomes exempt for the rest of his life.
While this is a fascinating and original interpretation, the conventional wisdom that bikurim are brought every year must also have a basis. In his sefer Derech Emunah (Hilchos Bikurim 4:11 78), Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, writes that it is obvious that bikurim is an annual mitzvah. As proof for his position, he cites Rashi’s commentary in Gittin (47a).
The Mishnah rules that a Jew who sells a field in Eretz Yisrael to a gentile must purchase the first fruits and bring them as bikurim. Rashi writes that he must purchase the first fruits from the non-Jew at any price and bring them to Yerushalayim every year.
There are also statements in the Gemara and Midrash that appear to support this understanding. For example, the Yerushalmi (Bikurim 5a) rules that one may not bring bikurim from the new crop to exempt the old crop, nor from the old crop on behalf of the new crop, which indicates that a farmer has two distinct obligations, neither of which can fulfill the requirement of the other.
Also, in his commentary on Parashas Ki Savo (26:16), Rashi quotes a Midrash that says that after a farmer finishes the bikurim ritual, a bas kol (Heavenly voice) blesses him that he will merit to do it again the following year, implying that bikurim is an annual mitzvah.
In a subsequent teshuvah (17:19), the Tzitz Eliezer responds to someone who wrote to him and argued that this Midrash and Rashi’s comment in Gittin seem to contradict his chiddush.
Rav Waldenberg clarifies that what he intended to say is that once a farmer has brought bikurim from his trees, he is no longer required to perform the mitzvah with those trees. However, if he plants a new tree in the future — even in the same field —he will be obligated to bring bikurim from that tree, since it is considered a new reishis pri ha’adamah.
He suggests that this is the meaning of the blessing given by the bas kol, that the farmer should merit planting new trees that will give him the opportunity to bring bikurim again.
Q: Rashi writes (Devarim 29:12) that Moshe Rabbeinu threatened the Jewish people with a total of 98 different curses if they failed to observe the commandments. Why did he specifically mention this number of punishments?
A: The Tosefos Rid notes that the numerical value of the word Gehinnom is 98. Therefore, Moshe threatened the people with 98 curses in the hopes that these 98 punishments would exempt them from having to experience the actual Gehinnom.
Alternatively, Harav Doniel Yehuda Bloch suggests that the 98 curses correspond to the 98 spiritual levels through which a person can climb or, G-d forbid, fall.
When the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt they were on the 49th level of spiritual impurity, and during the ensuing seven weeks they extricated themselves and ascended to the 49th level of holiness prior to the giving of the Torah.
In order to remind us of our constant obligation to grow and climb the spiritual ladder, and of the danger of falling to the greatest depths imaginable if we fail to do so, Moshe specifically mentioned 98 different curses, one for each level of spirituality.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi 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.