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A Tisket, a Tasket, a Bikkurim-Filled Basket: Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin on Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo discusses bikkurim, first fruits: “You shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name. (Deut. 26:2). This law requires that the first fruit of the harvest be brought to Jerusalem and presented at the Temple to the priests.

Tune in as Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of The Schechter Institutes, explores four of the basic values found in Parashat Bikkurim.

Watch the video and read the accompanying article below:

Ki Tavo 5779

By Rabbi David Golinkin

The portion of Ki Tavo opens with  parashat bikkurim (the first fruits) (Deut. 26:1-11) which includes the bikkurim recitation (v. 5-10), recited once a year by those who brought bikkurim to the Temple.  These eleven verses constitute one of the most important sections of the Torah.  It is, therefore, not surprising that our Sages made them the nucleus of the Passover Haggadah and that the Masorti Movement chose them as the Torah reading for Yom Ha’atzmaut.  We would like to emphasize here four of the basic values found in parashat bikkurim:

  1. The centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people: Verse 2 says that you shall go to the place where the Lord your God shall choose to dwell.  The Torah does not define that place, but King David chose Jerusalem (II Samuel 5:4-10).  Indeed, Mishnah Bikkurim (Chapter 3) describes how the Jewish people used to congregate in the district capitals “and early in the morning the officer said:  ‘Arise you and let us go up to Zion, to the house of the Lord our God!’ ” (Mishnah 2).  Those who bought first fruits went up to Jerusalem in a colorful parade “and the ox went before them, its horns overlaid with gold and a wreath of olive leaves on its head; the flute was played before them until they drew near Jerusalem” (Mishnah 3) and the people of Jerusalem would come out to greet them.  In other words, the bikkurim ceremony emphasized every year anew that Jerusalem is the holy place which God chose that He might dwell therein.
  2. Personal identification with the history of our people: Verses 3-10 are couched in the first person singular or plural.  The reciters thereby expressed their complete identification with events which had transpired hundreds or eve thousands of years before their time.  Just as we recite in the Haggadah every year: “In every generation a person must consider himself as if he had gone forth from Egypt”.  Similarly, those who brought bikkurim declared once a year that they were in Egypt and that they were taken out from bondage and that they were brought to Eretz Yisrael by God.
  3. An attitude of gratitude: The verb “נתן” (= He gave) appears six times in the bikkurim  This emphasis serves as an antidote to the phenomenon described in Deuteronomy 8:11-18: “Lest you forget the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt…and you say in our heart: my own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me”.  When a person works hard and succeeds, he tends to that that his own might and efforts led to his success.  The bikkurim section comes to remind him that God is the one who gave him the first fruits and that he must thank Him anew every year.
  4. Concern for the weak: Verse 11 says that you and the Levite and the stranger shall enjoy all the bounty which the Lord your God has bestowed upon you. In other words, the Israelite farmer must share his harvest with the strangers in the land.  Indeed, this message repeats itself many times in the Torah where we are instructed to leave gleanings (leket), the corner of the field (pe’ah) and forgotten sheaves (shikheha) “to the poor, the stranger, the widow and the orphan”, so that we should remember that we too were once slaves in the Land of Egypt.

The Temple no longer exists.  Thus, we no longer have the opportunity to recite the bikkurim section once a year.  But the four basic values of parashat bikkurim are just as valid today as they were in Biblical times.  May we have the wisdom to teach them and nurture them in Isaeli society today.

David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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