“It shall be when you will come into the Land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it, and live in it. You shall take from the first of all the fruit of the land that the Lord your God is giving you. And you shall place it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose to rest His name there.” (Devarim 26:1-2)

Our parsha opens with the mitzvah of bikkurim, the first fruits. Rabbi Steinsaltz (Weisfeld Edition of the Humash page 1094) provides a summary of the mitzvah: “The verse does not specify which types of fruit should be brought to the Temple. According to rabbinic tradition, the commandment to bring the first fruit to the Temple applies only to the seven species with which the Land of Israel is blessed (see Devarim 8:8). One may supplement them with other types of fruit, but one does not thereby fulfill the commandment (see Mishna Bikkurim 1:3; 3:9). Likewise, the amount that one must bring is not stated in the Torah. The sages teach that each person may bring as he desires (Mishna Pe’a 1:1). The time for bringing the first fruit commences with the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot, which is also called the Day of the First Fruits (Numbers 28:26), the day on which two wheat loaves made from the first of the new wheat crop are presented in the Temple. The first fruits should be brought until the end of the Festival of Tabernacles. However, if one did not bring them until then, they may be brought until Hannukah (Mishna Bikkurim 1:3; 1:6). Although one may perform this commandment individually, the Mishna describes the public manner in which the first fruits were brought during the Second Temple period. The residents of each town or province would ascend to Jerusalem together in a dramatic ceremonial procession that included decorations and much music (Mishna Bikkurim 3:2-4).” The bikkurim were given to a Cohen on duty and a special recitation of verses (mikra bikkurim) accompanied them.

In the absence of the Temple, this mitzvah can no longer be performed. The closest approximation of bikkurim today is when children march into shul on Shavuot morning with homemade, decorated baskets of fruit and place them in front of the Aron Kodesh. Yet, according to Rabbi Eliezer Papo (Bulgaria, 1785-1828), there is a way of partially fulfilling this mitzvah today, as he records in his great ethical work Peleh Yoetz (in the entry on Bikkurim):

“Bikkurim is one mitzvah of the 613 mitzvoth that applied at the time that the Temple stood. There is something similar to it today, for our Sages (Ketubot 105b) said, ‘Whoever gives a gift to a Torah scholar it is as if he has brought bikkurim.’ I have already written elsewhere that when a Jew says that he is pained because the Temple has been destroyed due to our sins and we can no longer fulfill the mitzvoth that applied in the Temple’s presence, the way to test if he is being honest is to see whether he fulfils with all his strength those mitzvoth which are akin to the mitzvoth that no longer apply. It is therefore proper for a man or woman whose spirit of generosity moves them, to bring satisfaction to their Creator by setting aside the ‘first fruits’ of everything that is in their home, be it grain, wine, oil or other commodities and give that portion to Hashem through the Torah scholars or the poor of good families. It is well known that giving a poor person something that can be used immediately [as opposed to money] is a great level of charity (Ta’anit 23b). Such behaviour is akin to the mitzvah of bikkurim and helps to bring blessing into one’s storehouse.”

Rabbi Papo explains further that this mitzvah is relevant to one’s own family. When a father wants to distribute his wealth to his children, he should take careful note of which son has the ability to become a Torah scholar and which one will become a businessperson. He should support both and ensure that the one with business acumen will support his brother (or brothers) so that they can learn Torah unhindered by financial concerns. We can add to Rabbi Papo’s words that such was the behaviour of our father, Yaakov. When Yaakov blessed his children upon his deathbed (Bereishit 49), he said of Zebulun that his tribe would be merchants, dwelling by the seashore and trading with foreign nations. Issachar, their brother, would “bow his shoulder to bear” and “become an indentured servant.” Issachar would take on the heavy burden of full-time Torah study and would be supported in their endeavours by Zebulun. Moshe stated similarly in his final blessing to the tribes (Devarim 33:18), “And of Zebulun he said: Rejoice, Zebulun in your departure [for maritime commerce] and Issachar, in your tents.” The word “tents” in this context refers to the Halls of Study in which the members of the tribe of Issachar would delve into the depths of Torah.

To this day, there are many Torah scholars who are supported by generous philanthropists who value the study of Torah at its highest level. I was extremely fortunate to have a good part of my yeshiva tuition covered by a wonderful benefactor with whom I remain close friends to this day. His generous support was no less than the first fruit that farmers offered to the cohanim. Of people like this, we can apply the famous verse (Proverbs 3:18), “It [the Torah] is a tree of life to those who hold it tight and its supporters are praiseworthy.”

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha: 


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