Bikurim: “You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground”

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“You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground”

(Deuteronomy 26:2)

Sivan 5, 5780/May 29, 2020

The central aspect of the pilgrimage festival of Shavuot, when celebrated in the Holy Temple is the bringing of the bikurim – the first-fruits offering. The ceremony of the bringing of the first-fruits is beautifully described in Torah:

“And it will be, when you come into the land which HaShem, your G-d, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which HaShem, your G-d, is giving you. And you shall put them into a basket and go to the place which HaShem, your G-d, will choose to have His Name dwell there. And you shall come to the kohen who will be serving in those days, and say to him, ‘I declare this day to HaShem, your G-d, that I have come to the land which HaShem swore to our forefathers to give us.'” (Deuteronomy 26:1-3)

In the Mishna Bikurim our sages describe the beautiful process by which the farmer, in anticipation of the first-fruits offering, carefully watches his fruit bearing trees, and upon seeing the first fruit beginning to develop, ties a ribbon around it to mark it as a first-fruit offering to be brought to the Holy Temple.

In short, Shavuot, as observed in the Holy Temple, is all about man bringing a gift to G-d – the gift of the first-fruits. Yet, following the destruction of the Holy Temple, the emphasis of our Shavuot observance has been the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai, in which G-d gave to man the greatest gift of all – the gift of Torah.

Is there a connection between these two distinctly different approaches to the holiday of Shavuot, or are they two parallel tracks, with nary a common thread to connect them?

The common theme, of course, is the theme of giving and receiving. The observance of Shavuot in the Holy Temple focuses on the gift that man brings G-d: this is the meaning of Shavuot from G-d’s perspective! G-d is delighted that His people Israel are dwelling in the land He promised them, and by taking the first-fruits, the gift of the land of Israel, and bringing them to HaShem, are acknowledging and thanking G-d for His goodness and His blessing. This is what G-d requires, and this is what G-d desires!

Today, in our observance of Shavuot, in which we emphasis receiving the Torah, we are focusing on the gift that G-d brings to man: this is the meaning of Shavuot from our perspective. We are delighted that G-d has deemed us worthy of the gift of Torah, which brings meaning and purpose and taste and color and beauty into our lives. The gift of Torah is the gift of life itself! On Shavuot, and on every day of the year, we acknowledge and thank G-d for His goodness and His blessing. Torah is what we require, and what we desire!

Shavuot, in essence, is the holiday of the exchanging of gifts, of giving and receiving, of giving in order to receive, and of receiving in order to give. Our relationship with G-d is not a one-way street. This is the beauty of the Torah, the covenant which binds Israel to the G-d of Israel, and this is the beauty of the bringing of the first-fruits, a gift that means the world to G-d.

The Temple Institute wishes to bless all our friends and followers, our supporters and fellow travelers, the entire nation of Israel, and all who attach their fate to the people of Israel and the G-d of Israel, a very happy and meaningful Shavuot: Chag Sameach!

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