Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
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by Efraim Levine

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HaGoan R' Aaron Levine zt"l
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You are to take of the first of all the fruits of the soil that you bring from your land, that Hashem your God is giving you, and place it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem your God chooses to house His Presence there (Devarim 26:2)

In this week’s parsha we learn about the mitzvah of bikurim. The Torah instructs the farmer to take the first fruits that have ripened, place them in a basket and bring them to the Beis Hamikdash. He is to place the basket before the altar and recite a few posukim in the presence of a kohen. We recite and expound upon these words at the pesach seder as part of the hagadah liturgy. Chazal ascribe enormous significance to the mitzvah of bikurim. During the time of the Beis Hamikdash it was preformed with great fanfare and celebration. Indeed, the Midrash interprets the first posuk of the Torah as a reference to the mitzvah of bikurm. The word “bereishis” may be interpreted as meaning “because of reishis.” Reishis refers to bikurim, which the Torah in our parsha calls “reishis.” The first posuk of the Torah is thus interpreted as meaning, “Because of the mitzvah of bikurim Hashem created the world.”

The first Mishnah of mesechtah Berachos begins with the law of the evening shemah. The Mishnah tells us that the earliest time to recite shemah is when the kohanim eat their terumah. A kohen who has been contaminated may not eat terumah. He must immerse in the mikvah and wait for nightfall to become ritually pure. Only then is he permitted to eat terumah. The Talmud identifies this moment as the time when the stars appear. The Mishnah teaches that this moment is also the earliest time one may recite the evening shemah.

We may ask, if the time to recite shemah has arrived why are the kohanim eating terumah? Shouldn’t they also be required to recite shemah? The recital of shemah should take precedence because it is a mitzvah whose time will pass unlike terumah which has no set time.

Furthermore, The Mishnah says, the earliest time to recite shemah is when the Kohanim eat “their” terumah? Why does the Mishnah emphasize the terumah as theirs. Would it not suffice to say “when they eat terumah?”

The commentators answer that the Mishnah may be referring not to terumah but bikurim. The Torah also calls bikurim by the name terumah (Devarim 12:17). There is an important difference between bikurim and terumah. Bikurim is considered the complete property of the Kohanim unlike terumah. A practical difference between the two is that a kohen may pay off his private debts with bikurim and not terumah. The Mishnah calls it “their” terumah to emphasize that the terumah under discussion is completely theirs, referring specifically to bikurim and not regular terumah. (See Sefer Daf Al HaDaf, Berachos p. 24 in the name of Rav Shimon Sofer)

It emerges that the Mishnah is teaching that the earliest time to recite shemah is the same time as when the kohanim who have been contaminated are fit to eat bikurim. What is the connection between two?

Let us suggest a few. First, both bikurim and shemah focus on the concept of one. The fruit presented at the altar is the first of the crop and in shemah we focus on the fact that Hashem is One, i.e., the source of the entire world. Secondly, the concept of bikurim teaches us to be grateful. The main ingredient of gratefulness is recognition. We publicly recognize all that Hashem has done for us. This is similar to shemah where we recognize that Hashem is our God. Thirdly, the mitzvah of bikurim serves as an inspiration for the fulfillment of the shemah. According to Rashi the interpretation of the first posuk in shemah is; Hashem, who at this time is recognized as “our” God will one day be recognized as God of the entire world. Bikurim inspire us to believe that this will be fulfilled. The farmer recalls the humble beginnings of the Jewish people. First, how Lavan wanted to destroy Yaakov, then, how our ancestors were slaves in Egypt but conclude by mentioning how Hashem has redeemed us and brought us to the land of Israel. The fruits that the farmer deposit before the altar is tangible proof of the miraculous work of Hashem. The fruits inspire us to believe that just as Hashem has transformed the Jewish people from nothing to what they are today, likewise Hashem will transform the entire world to recognize His existence.

Another relationship between bikurim and shemah can be seen in how the Torah requires a farmer to “speak up and declare.” It is rare for the Torah to require one to fulfill a mitzvah by declaring something in a loud voice. Shemah on the other hand begins with the word “listen.” What are we listening to? The commentators explain that in this context, “listen” is interpreted to mean understand.

Now that the Mishnah puts the two together we may homiletically suggest that the “listen” of shmah refers to words that the farmer “declares” to the Kohen.

Perhaps the Mishna means to tell us that when a Kohen has in his possession bikurim it is desirable for him to first eat the bikurim and then recite the shemah. The two mitzvos are not competing with one another, rather complementing each other. The recital of the shemah is like a blessing or response that one recites after eating bikurim. As mentioned above the eating of bikurim serves as inspiration for the recital of the shemah. Furthermore, when the Kohen eats the bikurm, the words that the farmer declared upon them ring in his ears. The farmer has in essence declared to the kohen, how grateful he is to Hashem for all that He has done for him and the Jewish people. In response the kohen eats the bikurim and says to himself and those present “Listen Yisroel - Hashem is our G‑d Hashem is One.”


© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5765/2005