Bikurim and Rosh Hashanah

V’lakachta mi’reishis kol pri ha’adamah (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 as an expression of gratitude to Hashem for giving him a successful harvest.

Harav Yisroel Reisman points out that while the parashah begins with the first mitzvah that a farmer does with his produce, it is followed by the final commandment that he performs with his crops, which is known as viduy maaser (26:12-15).

Following the three-year cycle of tithes that a farmer is obligated to separate from his crops, this mitzvah entails him to recite a passage in which he declares that he has properly observed the laws governing the separation and distribution of the tithes, concluding, “I have done all that You commanded me.”

There is a significant difference, however, between these two mitzvos. The Mishnah in Bikurim (3:3) teaches that as the farmers approached Yerushalayim with their bikurim, they were greeted by flutists playing in their honor and dignitaries coming out to welcome them. As they traversed the streets of the city, the local artisans stopped working in order to stand up and greet them.

However, while a great fuss was made to honor those who were engaged in the mitzvah of bringing bikurim, no parallel requirement existed for those who were reciting viduy maaser, nor for those who came to Yerushalayim to do other mitzvos. What is unique about the mitzvah of bikurim that warrants such special treatment?

Rav Reisman explains that Chazal understood the importance of beginnings and the need for new endeavors to start out with excitement. Even though these feelings might not last forever, they set the appropriate tone and create enthusiasm for a project that will enable it to prosper and flourish.

Because bikurim is the first mitzvah that a farmer performs with his new produce, it calls for a celebratory environment that will inspire him to continue down this path even after he returns home. The cycle is completed three years later when he recites the viduy maaser declaration in the privacy of his own home, without any pomp and fanfare.

Rav Reisman adds that this message is particularly appropriate for this time of year as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah. The lesson of bikurim teaches that the outcome of a new undertaking is heavily influenced by the passion and zeal with which it was begun. Even though this excitement does not last forever, it provides the spark and energy that enable it to be successful.

As we work to make meaningful kabbalos to help ourselves become better Jews and better people, we must begin our years by imbuing our “bikurim” with enthusiasm and fervor so that we, too, can look back at the end of the year and declare, “I have done all that You commanded me.”

Q: After the Jewish people initially accepted the Torah while standing near Mount Sinai, why were they required to reaccept it by standing on top of Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival (27:11-26)?

A: Harav Eli Munk distinguishes between the initial giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, where the Jewish people were commanded to stand at the bottom of the mountain, and the reaffirmation of their commitment at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, where they were specifically commanded to ascend and stand on top of the mountains.

The change in their positions vis-à-vis the mountain wasn’t coincidental. Symbolically, it alluded to the fact that their original acceptance of the Torah was passive in nature, as they did not yet know what was contained in the Torah. While important and necessary, this level of acceptance was insufficient.

At this later point, they had studied the Torah and its laws and were commanded to actively reaccept the Torah in order to transmit it to the next generation, as symbolized by their being positioned on top of the mountain.

Rav Munk adds that this paradigm is a metaphor for the Torah study of every individual Jew, as he initially begins by learning the Torah’s laws and inculcating them within himself. However, there must eventually come a time when he progresses to the higher level of accepting a responsibility to actively teach and share his knowledge with others in order to ensure the continual and eternal transmission of the Torah.

Q: The Torah teaches (28:47) that the terrible curses described throughout the parashah will come as a result of not serving Hashem with gladness. If this is indeed such a terrible sin, why is there no commandment to do so?

A: In his sefer Yad Av, Harav Doniel Yehuda Bloch argues that this question is mistaken in its premise, as the very complaint against our performing the mitzvos without happiness is that joy should be an automatic byproduct of serving Hashem. He compares this to a case of someone who gives an incredibly valuable gift to his friend, who will naturally rejoice upon recognizing what he has been given.

It would be inappropriate and superfluous to add a request that he enjoy the present. Similarly, if we truly appreciated the value of all that Hashem has given us, we would automatically serve Him with joy, and for not doing so we are punished severely.


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.