This week’s parsha contains important lessons in interpersonal relations and raising healthy children. At face value, the parsha is difficult to understand. The Nesivos Shalom and many other commentaries ask similar questions about the elaborate exposition describing the mitzvah of bringing bikurim, first fruit, to the Bais Hamikdash.
The Sifri comments that by performing the mitzvah of bikurim, we ensure our entrance into Eretz Yisrael. In Beraishis Rabba, we learn that the entire creation of the world was in the merit of the mitzvah of bikurim. The Nesivos Shalom asks why we recite the lengthy text of “Arami oved avi,” describing the humble beginnings of Klal Yisrael as they became a nation, when bringing bikurim. Additionally, he questions why there are specific instances when the mitzvah of bikurim may only be done in times of simcha, extreme happiness. Finally, he asks why there is a requirement for bikurim to be brought in a group setting rather than individually. Why is there such fanfare surrounding a mitzvah whose requirements are found with no other mitzvah, especially since it would seem that many mitzvos are greater than the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits?
There is a famous story of two friends who are hiking when they suddenly see a hungry lion approaching. One opens his backpack, starts to put on his running shoes and begins to lace up. His friend points out, “You can’t outrun the lion,” to which he responds, “I don’t have to; I only have to outrun you.” We live in the generation of iPads, iPods and iPhones. In a world that is I-centered, we neglect to recognize the tremendous good that Hashem does for us on a daily basis. We are all aware that the Torah offers us guidance in many areas. Although written thousands of years ago, the section of bikurim gives us tremendous insight into today’s generation. Bikurim was designed as the antidote to our I-centered world.
The Nesivos Shalom explains the perplexing section of bikurim with a simple idea based on a midrash in Bamidbar Rabba. Although Hashem has many angels in Heaven without any yetzer hara, He created the world for us, and He desires to dwell in it with us. Hashem is seeking the self-sacrifice of real people in a real world; this brings Him even greater satisfaction than the actions of the seemingly perfect angels. The farmer plows, seeds and waters his land daily, and he finally sees the fruits of his labor when his first crops grow from the ground. Rather than succumbing to the temptation to immediately eat and enjoy, the farmer separates the fruit for Hashem and carries it to Yerushalayim. The word “reishis,” “first,” is used to describe bikurim to indicate that these fruits are so special to the owner, yet he decides to dedicate them solely to the service of Hashem.
The parsha of bikurim with its lengthy ceremony, which is unlike any other mitzvos, is teaching us a profound lesson. Although there may seem to be mitzvos that are more important than bikurim, the middos of chessed and hakaras hatov, as demonstrated through the mitzvah of bikurim, are the basis for all of the Torah. We need to constantly focus on finding opportunities for our families to do chessed, and even more importantly, we should be thankful for the chessed that Hashem and his messengers do for us on a daily basis. With a little thought and creativity, we can design chores and opportunities for our children to grow and shine in these important areas.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman