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by Daneal Weiner
"It will be that when you enter the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you
as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take
the first of the fruit of the ground that you bring from your land....and
go to the place that Hashem will choose..." The Midrash on these opening
verses of this weeks|
says that it is for this mitsvah of Bikurim, First Fruits that we were brought into the Land of Israel. Rav Wolfson notes that the vernacular seems a little off. Rashi clarifies on 'possess it and dwell in it' that we aren't obligated in this mitsvah until all the Jews are settled into their portion of the inheritance. One would think the Midrash should say, "It is for this mitsvah that we were settled in the Land of Israel." Why does the Midrash say 'brought into"?
The 'place that Hashem will chose' is given to us a few verses later. Rashi on Verse 9 says this place is the Bais Hamikdash- Temple. Underneath the Temple mount is where lies the Ehven Shisia, the foundation stone of the universe. Like the creation of a new born, so too did the universe 'grow' from a single cell. The letters of the first word of the Torah, "Braishis" can be rearranged to spell "Barah Shis"- He created the Shis(ia). This single cell of stone was not just the 'raishis'- beginning/start of all creation but contained the metaphysical DNA of all creation. We are commanded to take the raishis of the fruits and bring them to this place of raishis!
Although it took Einstein most his life to discover the relativity of time and space, had he received a good Jewish education he could have learned it in his youth. Relative to the Temple mount which is the raishis in space, we have Rosh Hashanah which is the raishis in time. Like the Ehven Shisia, Rosh Hashanah is the start of the year which embodies all of the year. During three major holidays, referred to as the Pilgrimages, all of Israel ascends to Jerusalem to the Temple Mount. This is not the case on Rosh Hashanah! Since this holiday parallels the Ehven Shisia which is all space, on Rosh Hashanah the Temple mount goes out to everyone rather than everyone coming to it. It is for this reason that we prostrate ourselves onto the ground, wherever we are, during services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as opposed to the services of the Pilgrimages on which we can only say the words, "And [to the Temple Mount] we will go and see and prostrate ourselves before You, three times [a year]..." as we long for the rebuilding of the Temple.
The Ba'al Hatanya, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe said that during this month of Elul the King of Kings is 'out in the fields' so to speak. Meaning Hashem is easily accessible to one and all. Comes Rosh Hashanah and the month of Tishrei and it is like the King retreats to His castle. Now the only way to reach Him is with an appointment and a good reason. Yet Rosh Hashanah, we said, is raishis, which is everywhere. So Hashem is reigning from His castle but His castle is everywhere! This is an insight into a custom of Israel that while on every other Shabbos and Holiday, the cantor approaches the podium before beginning services yet on Rosh Hashanah from wherever he sits he sings out the first words, "The King" and then approaches the podium and continues. Rav Wolfson found in the sefer Imrei Noam that "Rosh Hashanah" has the same gematria, numeric equivalent of "Bais Hamikdash".
In the Gemorah Sanhedrin Rav Yossi says three mitsvos were obligatory upon the settling of the Land of Israel. Establishing a king, wiping out Amaleik and building the Temple. [Rav Mordechai Perlman offered an insight as to why these three are mentioned, seemingly to the exclusion of every other mitsvah dependant upon settling Israel, like Bikurim! He said that these three mitsvahs are one time shots, so to speak. Once a monarchy has been set in motion, Amaleik has been destroyed and the Temple has been built, then that's it for the mitsvah. As opposed to Bikurim, for example, which is every year. But this was just to answer a glaring question.] Rav Wolfson says there is a fourth mitsvah relevant to these three which is dependant upon Hashem. The ingathering of the exiles! There are conflicting opinions in Midrash if the ingathering will be before the third Temple is built or after. Since Rosh Hashanah" = "Beis Hamikdash" then the preparation for one is the preparation for the other! The month of Elul is the preparation for Rosh Hashanah. The first Shabbos of Elul was Parshas Shoftim in which we were instructed as to the appointment of a king. The very end of last weeks parsha, Ki Saitsay, told us to destroy Amaleik. This week we read of the mitsvah of Bikurim, bringing the raishis of the fruits to the Temple, necessitating the building of one, and next week we'll read in Netsavim of Hashem's ingathering of His exiled people! This gives us insight into another unique custom reagrding the Rosh Hashanah service, the addition of Psalm 130, "Shir hama'alos mima'amakim..."- A song of ascent, from the depths... MiMa'AMaKIM is an acronym for Melech (king) Michias Amaleik (destroying Amaleik) Mikdash (Temple) and Kibbuts Israel M'ha'amim (gathering in Israel from amongst the nations).
Focusing in on the mitsvah of this week, Bikurim is a little different from the other mitsvahs of it's kind. All other gifts for the Kohanim- Priesthood can be given to any Kohain- Priest anywhere. The first fruits have to be brought to a Kohain at the Temple! From what we've said till now we can understand why. Raishis comes to the place of raishis. There are a few other questions. The opening verse adds, "from your land" meaning the fruits have to go from the farm straight to the Temple. Other gifts like tithes can go to a retail outlet and anyone who purchases the produce can tithe it and give it to a Kohain. Why not with the first fruits if it will make it to the Temple anyway? Verse 3 instructs us to give the fruits to 'whomever will be the Kohain in those days' [in that generation]. Rashi says who you see is what you get while Nachamonides wonders who else is there to give it to??? Part of the mitsvah is the unusual declaration, "An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather..." It's not unusual for a class in Jewish history but why in is it tied into the first fruits?
To begin the answer there is no better place to begin than at the beginning. Adam was created on Rosh Hashanah and on that same day he ate of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and brought a blemish to creation, death came into the world. Along with it came the aging and limitation of the vitality and freshness which nature would have expressed before the sin. Now the nature of things is to begin with a freshness which stales and disappears with time. With the coming of the new year comes a reawakening of that vigor and vitality which has us rising early for services and running to do mitsvos we normally might not even do. This re-energizing is amplified inversely to our number in years. As the year passes and as the years pass the energy drains, the enthusiasm drops off. Though we once might have stood and shuckled with fervor for all the morning prayers, now we sit and try to work up a sway. Then comes the next Rosh Hashanah with it's new injection of life and we start the cycle again.
Again, paralleling the New Year in 'time' is the Temple in 'space'. It's a place of re-energizing! Regarding the Temple we say in Psalm 92, "The righteous will flourish like a date palm...Planted in the House of Hashem...they will still be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be." So is the power of the House of Hashem. This was also visible by the Show Breads which were eaten by the Kohanim, still hot and fresh more than a week after they came out of the ovens!!!
This same energy is what was realized by Yaakov Aveinu when he woke up from his dream of the ladder and declared, "Surely Hashem is in this place and I did not know...it is none other than the House of Hashem. Rashi comments on "I did not know"- "Had I known I would not have slept here." Chazal- Our Sages say that sleep is one sixtieth of death. Sleep is the antithesis of what the Temple is about. The Gemorah Midos teaches that if a Kohain is found sleeping on his watch then his clothes are burned! Just as after the sin of Adam and Chava did they 'know they were naked', so too this Kohain experiences a potentially similar sensation. A reminder that there is still a blemish in the world and he's not helping to well in the reparation. Again, paralleling the Temple is Rosh Hashanah to which our Sages in the Jerusalem(!) Talmud give fair warning, "If you sleep on Rosh Hashanah your 'luck' will sleep that year!" What you make of the start of your year will define the rest of your year! Now you know something that Yaakov didn't! Bet you never would have guessed!? And in Rav Wolfson inimitable fashion, from Psalm 92, "Vigorous and fresh they will be - d'shainim v'ra'ananim yiheyu" = "Rosh Hashanah" = "Beis Hamikdash"!!!
Now we can understand a little better the sin of Adam. He was the raishis of soul formed from the dust of the Temple Mount, the raishis in space, and on the day of the raishis in time. By his sin he put a blemish into the aspect of raishis. Were once was immortality, a constant state of vigor and freshness, now lies a weakening and aging towards death. The idea of reishis is not just one of 'first' but of zrizus- agility, quickness, enthusiastic haste in serving Hashem.
Soon we will start, as our Sfaradi brothers and sisters already have, waking up early to say slichos. Not only is less sleep, less connection to death, part of the reparation but if we get up with zrizus, with vitality, then the reparation will be so much greater! That is then something we can take with us the rest of the day. We can only get up from sleep once a day. (Some may not just to be able to get up again) but we can act with zrizus all day long. All our service of Hashem, especially at this time, should with a freshness and with energy, and needless to say with happiness to do so. Even in our business dealings, if we make them with awareness that all is from Hashem then even those decisions can be done a little quicker. The time saved can then be invested in more business or even better, in Torah and mitsvos.
Rav Wolfson brings from the sefer Maor Aynayim (on next weeks parsha) an explanation of a Gemorah Taanis, "Great is the day of rain like the resurrection of the dead!" There are some souls that just don't make it into Heaven nor into Gehenom! One certainly has to deserve Heaven but one even has to deserve hell! It's not a place of punishment. It's a place of reparation and restoration. The wearing of nature can make ones eyes become so bad, lo alainu, that no prescription is going to help. There's no point to Gehenom if it isn't going to get you clean. So what happens to such souls? They hang in limbo, so to speak, in the dirt in which they were buried. Then the rains come and the dirt gives forth vegetable life. (The rain had to be in here somewhere.) This miracle of nature elevates the soul. Eventually comes along a grazing cow or sheep and eats the grass. A further elevation for the soul. Then the animal is eaten by man. Hopefully, Divine providence arranges that the animal is eaten by a Jew who says the blessing before eating and when this person then prays and speaks in Torah the souls ascends to heaven. "Great is the day of rain like the resurrection of the dead!" This is the resurrection of which the Gemorah speaks. From the lifelessness of the dirt, only due to the fall of the rain can the process begin for this soul's resurrection.
To this Rav Wolfson adds the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov. In every food which we eat, Divine providence has arranged that it contains what we need and what is relevant to us for our reparation and our part in world reparation. This helps us understand a less familiar Chazal, it is forbidden for an ignoramus to eat meat. The Arizal clarifies that it's because such an individual does not know how to eat it and won't affect an atonement for this Jewish soul-food! Personally, I'm insulted by that because just the other day I picked up a hamburger and said to it, "Grandpa Fred, is that you? You must be cold. How about a blanket of ketchup?"
In a moment of weakness I really did say to a Rav I was learning Rav Wolfson's Torah with that of all the times I passed Mt. Olives on the way to the Kotel, I don't recall seeing any cows wondering about. Just an ignoramus' way of asking, "What do you think the holy Maor Aynayim means?" Rav Osher Reich was quick to respond that all the dirt of the world is one in the same! A soul is not bound to it's plot or it's cemetery. It could be bound to the dirt in Argentina. He picked on Argentina because it is the largest kosher meat slaughtering country in the world , I think. Let's say one of the largets. Maybe that's why it's called Argentina. 'Argen' in Hebrew means 'organize'!!! There'd have to be a lot of that!
Expanding on the Ba'al Shem Tov, the first fruits, have in them the energy of zrizus which can be instilled into those who eat them. Hashem has commanded us to bring them to the place of zrizus and they are eaten by a non-sleeping Kohain who has a specifically designated role in the atonement for the blemish of zrizus caused by Adam and Chava. After they ate and knew they were naked they made for themselves aprons of fig leaves. The Aramaic translation of Onkelos translates 'apron' as 'ZRIZIN'!! Having realized the consequences of their sin, Adam and Chava acted with zrizin/zrizus to begin making repairs of the damage!
So we know why the first fruits must come to the Temple and it is because of zrizus that they most come directly to the temple and not eventually make their way there as by the tithes. We can also now understand why the Torah emphasizes to bring the fruits to a Kohain in that day. Because someone might think, "In the old days, those Kohanim really knew how to eat! But now days, they're just a bunch of ignoramuses! I'll do a better job eating it myself!" "STOP RIGHT THERE," says the Torah! "You bring it to the Kohain in your day and don't worry about the accountings of Hashem. That Kohain in your day will affect whatever reparations you need!" Just as the Kohain's eating of the sacrifice was necessary for the atonement of those who brought it, so too does his eating of your fruits from "your land," as the Torah emphasizes.
Now we can explain the reason for the paragraph of Amaleik immediately preceding the our parsha's commanding the first fruits. Amaleik is called by Chazal the raishis amongst the nations! They were the first to attack Bnei Yisrael. They are described as having "happened upon us" in the desert but the word for 'happened' is the same as for 'cooled'. Bnei Yisrael's passion, their enthusiasm and zrizus to serve Hashem was cooled off. Juxtaposed to this loss is the mitsvah of the first fruits which will gain it back!
This is the perfect lead in for the relevance of the verse "An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather..." The Aramean is Lavan. When Eliezer, Avraham's servant, showed up at Lavan's house to ask Lavan's father for his sister Rivka's hand in marriage, Lavan tried to kill Eliezer by poisoning the food! (Weren't we just talking about something in the food?) As a messenger for Yitschak, it had to be assumed Eliezer was successful as soon as he left the house and Yitschak was thereby assumed engaged. This means that if Eliezer never came home again, Yitschak could never marry for fear of marrying the mother, sister or daughter of the mystery woman he was engaged to! That would have put a damper, no doubt, in the birth of Bnei Yisrael.
Years later Yaakov shows up at Lavan's house to ask for his daughter Rachel's hand in marriage. Yaakov spends 20 years by Lavan tending grass grazing animals! (Weren't we just talking about grass grazing animals?) Lavan switches Leah for Rachel. You wanted the young, vibrant one, Yaakov? "In this place we offer the older before the younger," he tells Yaakov.
Yaakov arranges with Lavan that he will work for any speckled or spotted sheep which the gene pool of the white sheep manages to produce. The Torah then says Lavan separated his flock three days while Yaakov tended "the remaining of Lavan's flock." If Yaakov is to be paid for tending Lavan's sheep from Lavan's sheep then what was separated? What were the 'remaining' of the flock? Chazal say that Lavan separated the young and strong of his flock a three day journey and left Yaakov to tend the weak and the old. >From those sheep was Yaakov to collect his wages. Lavan was attempting to destroy Yaakov the vitality of Yaakov's services of Hashem be making his wage, which was inevitably his dinner, from the weakest of his flock! Yaakov countered wisely, as it says in the Torah, "Whenever it was mating time for the early-bearing flocks, Yaakov would place the rods...but when the sheep were late-bearing he would not...thus the late-bearing ones went to Lavan and the early-bearing ones went to Yaakov." Gotta fight for zrizus with zrizus!
Another one to fit the bill of an "Aramean who tried to destroy my forefather" is Bilaam who Chazal say was a reincarnation of Lavan! When Balak sought Bilaam to destroy Bnei Yisrael the Torah says Bilaam 'rose early in the morning' to get to the task at hand. He tried to use zrizus against us. How very fitting is it to make such a declaration as we are zariz to bring the raishis of the fruits to the raishis in place and praise Hashem that He has given us the precise ammunition to combat the attacks of our enemies. That is the definition of a mitsvah! Heat seeking, armor penetrating, air to ground ammunition!
For every blessing of a mitsvah we say, "Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, that You have sanctified us with your commandments...." With every degree of sanctification we are closer to the Garden of Eden, pre-sin! We are fortified with what we need to defeat our enemies! We are a step closer to the coming of the Mashiach!
The last verse of this weeks Haftorah from Isaiah, 60, says, "The smallest shall increase a thousandfold and the least into a mighty nation; I am Hashem, in it's time I will hasten it." This is from where we learn the coming of the Mashiach, "in it's time I will hasten it." If we deserve nothing, the Mashiach will come in his designated time. The world will not go on longer then planned. But if we deserve it from the merits of our Torah and mitsvos or if we need it so badly due to our sin, then Hashem will hasten the coming.
Now we can answer the very first question on the Midrash which said a seemingly pre-mature, 'for this mitsvah we were brought into the land of Israel.' The mitsvah of the first fruits is a reparation for the original sin! DON'T wait for every Jew to be settled in Israel!!! Work on it at the earliest possible moment! After all, we're talking about zrizus!! It should wait? Serve Hashem with vitality! Run to do mitsvos. Get up early to learn Torah! Pray with a freshness, like it is the first time. Look what it power it has!!! I'm just talking about it and it's the first time in 6 weeks I'm finished ahead of deadline!!!
HURRY! And have an enthusiastic Shabbot Shalom!