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Celebrating the Mission Statement

Friday, 23 September, 2016 - 10:46 am

Celebrating the Mission Statement

There are many Biblical commandments regarding the produce grown in the land of Israel. The Jewish farmer is commanded to offer various tithings, to the Levite and to the poor, that added up to almost twenty percent of the produce. Yet no other commandment of the produce was done with as much ceremony as the commandment of Bikurim, the commandment to bring the first fruit to the temple. In addition to actually bringing the first fruit to the temple, the Torah commands the farmer to declare a very specific declaration of thanksgiving to G-d, the declaration begins with the description of events that took place centuries earlier, going back in history to the story of Jacob, it continues with the description of the slavery and exodus from Egypt, bringing the people into the Promised Land, and concludes with the farmer’s declaring that he is offering the first fruit as a gift to G-d.

In addition to the declaration, the Mishnah describes the details of the procession through which the fruit were carried to Jerusalem:

A bull would go before them and its horns would be plated with gold and it would have a olive wreath around its head. The flute would play before them until they got close to Jerusalem. Once they got close to Jerusalem, they would send ahead of them [a messenger] and adorned their Bikurim. The overseers and the officers and the treasurers would go out to greet them; in accordance with the stature of those coming in would they go out. All the artisans of Jerusalem would stand before them and greet them, "Our brothers from so-and-so, come in peace!"

The flute would continue playing before them until they arrived at the Temple Mount. Once they arrived at the Temple Mount, even Agripas the King would carry his basket on his shoulder and enter until he reached the courtyard. Once they got to the courtyard, the Levites would speak in song (Psalms 30:2), "I will extol you, O Lord, because you have raised me and not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me."[1]

Why was the commandment to bring the fruit accompanied with this great ceremony and a detailed declaration? After all, it was not the largest gift that the farmer was required to give, as the commandments of the tithings far surpassed the value of the few first fruit brought as Bikurim? What was so unique about Bikurim that the Torah sees it as the culmination and high point of all the Jewish trials and tribulations going all the way back to our Patriarch Jacob?

Bikurim was more than the Jewish farmer’s token of appreciation to G-d for the blessings of the harvest. In fact, the Bikurim was a symbol of the mission statement of the People of Israel. While many spiritual seekers chose to escape the mundane constraints of civilization in order to cleave to spirituality, while many lofty souls chose to abandon the confines of the material world in order to transcend, the Torah teaches us that we must not escape the world. The Torah teaches that the purpose of creation is not to escape physicality but rather to sanctify it. Not to abandon the work in the farm and the orchard, but rather to bring its first fruit to G-d.

What is the purpose of the Jewish people? What is the purpose all the ups and downs challenges and triumphs of Jewish history? It is all in order that the Jewish people engage in the world and imbue it with spirituality. We take the first fruit of our field, the fruit of all our effort and labor, and bring them to Jerusalem, using the physical fruit to create a spiritual experience of spiritual joy and connection with G-d.  

This is not the first time the fruits of the land of Israel take a prominent place in the Biblical story. In the book of Numbers, the spies that were dispatched by Moses to scout the land of Israel returned to the people with a negative report. They convinced the people that they would be unable to conquer the land, and as evidence they displayed the extraordinary large beautiful fruit of the land, in order to “present a slanderous report, namely, just as its fruit are extraordinary, so too its people are extraordinary.”[2] Chasidic Philosophy teaches that the spies also presented a spiritual argument against entering the land. They presented the beautiful fruit of the land and argued that the fruit, and all the effort needed for its cultivation, would be a distraction from the service of G-d. The fruit, and the material bounty it represents, argued the spies, would pull us away from spirituality. Yet the spies were wrong. We the Jews are not afraid of abundance, we sanctify the abundance and use it to intensify our spiritual life[3]

Thus, the farmer who takes the first fruit to Jerusalem in a celebratory procession is doing more than offering thanksgiving. He is embodying the Jewish mission on earth. He is personifying all that Judaism teaches[4]. He is sanctifying the mundane and elevating the materialism.

He is bringing his first fruit to Jerusalem.  

 

 


[1] Mishnah Bikurin 3:3-4.

[2] Rashi Numbers 13:23.

[3] As explained by the Arizal that the bringing of the first fruit rectifies the sin of the Biblical spies. 

[4] See Talks of the Rebbe (Hisvaaduyos), Parshas Ki Savo 1989. 

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