Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
Dor Revi'i

Torah Insights on the Weekly Parsha
by Efraim Levine

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HaGoan R' Aaron Levine zt"l
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Hadrash Ve-Haiyan

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And you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land that Hashem, your G-d gives you and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem you G-d will choose to make His Name rest there. (Devarim 26:2)

In this week’s parsha we learn about the mitzvah of bikurim. The Torah instructs a farmer to bring a basket of his first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash and to present it to a kohen. He waves the basket, places it before the altar, recites a short history of the Jewish People, recites a prayer and bows down before Hashem.

The Midrash says that when Moshe foresaw that the Beis Hamikdash would be destroyed and the Jewish people would not have the ability to bring birkurim he enacted that they pray three times a day in place of this mitzvah. At first glance it seems difficult to understand how prayer is related to the mitzvah of bikurim. Although the recital of a prayer is part of the bikurim service, how do our daily prayers relate to the bringing of the first fruits of Eretz Yisroel? Furthermore, the commentators note that this Midrash indicates that the reason why we pray three times a day is because of Moshe’s enactment. This seems to be contradicted by Chazal that teach us that it was our forefathers who enacted the three daily prayers and that our prayers were also enacted to correspond to the daily tamid offerings.

The mitzvah of bikurim requires that one present the kohen with a basket of his first fruits in the Beis Hamikdash. Why is it necessary to bring bikurim at all? The Torah has already commanded us to give some of our first fruits to the kohen as terumah. Furthermore, why must the farmer make a long trip and present the bikurim in the Beis Hamikdash? Why may he not deliver them to a local kohen anywhere in Eretz Yisroel, similar to how one may fulfill the mitzvah of terumah?

Part of the ceremony of bikurim is when the farmer recites the history of the Jewish people dating back to the times of Yaakov and Lavan. Why is this necessary? Furthermore, why on Pesach is a major segment of the hagaddah devoted to the text of bikurim?

The Torah begins with the word “bereishis.” The Midrash comments that this word may be interpreted as meaning “because of reishis.” The word reishis is a reference to bikurim which is called reishis in our parsha. The Midrash interprets the first posuk of the Torah as meaning that in the merit of reishis Hashem created the world. Why is bikurim given such great importance?

Everyday, immediately before the recitation of shemonah esrei we say a short prayer. “Hashem, may you open my lips so that my mouth declare your praise.” This prayer is very unique. We pray that we succeed in prayer. We do not ask for anything other than help in prayer itself.

In the sefer Panim Yafos, parshas Va'eschanan, the author explains that it was Moshe who initiated this prayer. When Moshe stood at the threshold of entering Eretz Yisroel he fully understood the power of prayer. He also realized that there are great impediments and distractions that prevent us from experiencing an effective prayer. He therefore prayed that he be successful in his prayers. This idea is alluded to in the opening posuk of parshas Va'eschanan, “I prayed to Hashem at that time saying.” It would seem that the last word “saying” is redundant. The Panim Yafos explains that Moshe prayed that he succeed in prayer. The posuk is to be interpreted as follows: “I prayed to Hashem at that time that I succeed in expressing to Hashem what I have to say.”

After bringing bikurim one brings terumah, maaser and performs a whole array of other mitzvos that are related to the harvest and consumption of one’s produce. These mitzvos include leket, shikchah, payah, chalah and the blessings that one recites before and after eating.

We may suggest that the mitzvah of bikurim is related to the mitzvos that follow in the same way that the introductory prayer is related to the main prayer of shemonah esrei that follows.

At times of prayer there may be many distractions that interfere with our concentration. Our prayers may result in nothing more then lip service. Similarly, when one distributes gifts to the kohen, levi and poor there may be many impediments and distractions that prevent us from fulfilling the mitzvah properly. For example, a very important element in every mitzvah is attitude. When one gives terumah to the kohen, maaser to the levi, and gifts to the poor, one may harbor bad feelings as to why he should part with what he has worked hard to attain and give it to someone that may not appreciate it at all.

Before we begin our prayer we pray that we succeed in prayer. Similarly before we begin to fulfill the mitzvos that relate to the produce of the earth we perform the mitzvah of bikurim. It is with this mitzvah that we put everything in proper perspective. One is required to make a long trip to the Beis Hamikdash and review the history of the Jewish people. Thus we will be reminded that the land and produce is all a gift from Hashem. Only after we have put ourselves in a proper frame of mind, can we continue with the fulfillment of the mitzvos that follow. We need to bring bikurim so that we can succeed in fulfilling the mitzvos that follow with the proper intent and sincerity.

The Midrash tell us that when Moshe foresaw that the Beis Hamikdash would be destroyed he enacted that the Jewish people pray in the place of bikurim. We may suggest that Moshe did not enact that they pray daily. This was already established by our forefathers and was also enacted to correspond to the daily tamid offerings. Moshe established that everyone pray to succeed in prayer just as he did in the beginning of parshas Va'eschanan. He understood that this was the theme of bikurim.

With this idea it emerges that bikurim is a very unique mitzvah. It is a mitzvah that precedes the mitzvos that are yet to come. This may explain why we recite the text of bikurim at the seder on pesach. Here we focus on the origin, formation and establishment of the Jewish people. Before beginning something new we must put ourselves in the correct frame of mind. For this we must turn to bikurim. Likewise, we may now understand why in its merit Hashem created the world. Hashem did not just create the world so that we perform mitzvos. He created the world with the intent that we should understand that we need His help in the performance of the mitzvos as well.


© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004