Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, August 27 - 28

Torah reading:  Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8) 
Candle Lighting Time 7:18 PM
Shabbat ends 8:17 PM 

Pirkei Avot Chapter 3-4

First and Foremost 

The beginning of this week’s parsha discusses the Mitzvah of Bikkurim, First Fruits. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Jews were obligated to bring their first and choice fruits to the Temple. The underlying rationale for this Mitzvah was the idea of gratitude. Specifically, it expresses gratitude to G‑d for the Land of Israel and for all the bountiful fruits it yielded.

Thanking G‑d for all the good that He has blessed us forms the basis of many of our rituals, such as reciting blessings before and after we eat as well as many of our prayers. However, the theme of gratitude is nowhere as pronounced as it is in the Mitzvah of Bikkurim.

So special was this ritual, that it was accompanied with huge fanfare. Bringing the first fruits to Jerusalem involved music, decorations and many other enhancements. Central to the observance of this Mitzvah was the great joy one had to display in its performance. And while the Torah emphasizes the need for joy in all that we do for G‑d, joy was particularly important for the observance of the first fruit ritual.

Another interesting aspect of the ceremony of bringing Bikkurim was the Mishnah’s requirement that when people were walking towards Jerusalem, with their baskets of fruits, all the onlookers had to stand up to honor those who were on their way to perform this beautiful Mitzvah. Even those engaged in work—who would normally not be required to interrupt their work to honor anyone else—would have to stand to honor those who performed this Mitzvah.

The Talmud thus declares: “Come and see how precious performing a Mitzvah in its time is: While workers do not have to stand up when a Torah scholar passes, they do have to stand up for them (those who bring the Bikkurim).”

Let us try to understand why the Talmud singles out Bikkurim for such honor. While many authorities of Jewish law extend this requirement of standing in the presence of those who perform a Mitzvah to all Mitzvot, the mere fact that it was stated specifically in reference to the Mitzvah of Bikkurim suggests that there is something unique about this Mitzvah.

What is it about this Mitzvah that is so special?

Another question that can be raised: what does the Talmud mean when it refers to a Mitzvah performed “in its time?” Obviously, if one does a Mitzvah in an improper time—for example, if one were to blow Shofar during Passover and eat Matzah during Rosh Hashanah—that would not constitute a Mitzvah for which one must show honor. If one were to don Tefillin on Shabbat it would not require that we honor the person because it is not a Mitzvah done in it appropriate time. Why then the need to stress “in its time?”

The following explanation is partially based on a thought by the Chassidic scholar Rabbi Arye Fromer, of blessed memory, who headed the famed Chachmei Lublin Yeshivah in pre-war Poland, and who was murdered by the Nazis (Hy”d - may Hashem avenge his blood):

Every Mitzvah we do is an act of service to G‑d. A Mitzvah by definition is an act that requires us to give of our time, energy and resources for a cause that G‑d deems worthy. Some Mitzvot require greater sacrifice than others.

There are certain Mitzvot that one can perform with minimal sacrifice and it is still considered a Mitzvah. Obviously doing the Mitzvah with more dedication, beauty and excellence will enhance the Mitzvah, and is preferable. However, even minimal sacrifice would still be acceptable. One can give a hungry person bread and water and it is a beautiful Mitzvah. However, the Mitzvah would be greatly enhanced if he gives the starving person a gourmet meal. This indeed is emblematic of all the Mitzvot.

Bikkurim is unique in this regard. The giving of one’s choice first fruits is not just an enhancement of the Mitzvah; it is its very essence. The idea of Bikkurin is to take that which is most precious to us—our first and best fruits that we normally cherish for ourselves and are loathe to part with—and give them to G‑d.

This is in regard to the objective aspect of the Mitzvah.

With respect to the subjective part of the Mitzvah, i.e., the attitude we have when we do the Mitzvah. One can do a Mitzvah begrudgingly or happily. The ideal, of course, is to perform each and every Mitzvah with great enthusiasm and joy. However, even when that joy is lacking it is still regarded as a Mitzvah, albeit devoid of the important component of joy.

In this regard Bikkurim is also unique. The giving of the first fruits had to be accompanied with joy. Joy was not an enhancement of the Mitzvah it is its very heart and soul.

Bikkurim thus is the ideal Mitzvah both objectively and subjectively. It represents the ultimate in giving—the objective aspect of a Mitzvah—and the ultimate in the attitude one brings to the performance of the Mitzvah—the subjective aspect of the Mitzvah.

Now when one performs a Mitzvah on a lower level—either objectively speaking or subjectively speaking—his or her Mitzvah is lacking. One cannot say that they performed the Mitzvah in its proper time, because at the time one does the Mitzvah there is something lacking; either in the Mitzvah act itself or the mindset of the one who does the Mitzvah.

 Needless to say, one should never desist from doing an inferior type of Mitzvah, for, as the Talmud states—one should do a mitzvah even if it is for an ulterior motive, because from the ulterior motive one will eventually do it for the pure motive.

On a deeper level, this means that even if the Mitzvot we do are presently lacking, they will eventually be vindicated in the future when we mature and do Mitzvot properly. These “deficient” Mitzvot will be “rehabilitated” and made whole.

 This may be the meaning of the Talmud’s description of Bikkurim as a “Mitzvah in its proper time.” Bikkurim, because it is a Mitzvah that demands that we perform it on the highest level of excellence—objectively and subjectively—does not have to wait to be vindicated. The performance of this Mitzvah is unique; it is the paradigmatic perfect Mitzvah that evokes a sense of admiration and reverence for the performer of the Mitzvah. It is thus incumbent on us to stand in the presence of the Bikkurim bearers on their way to Jerusalem.

Many of the Mitzvot we perform today may lack the maturity and sophistication of Bikkurim. These Mitzvot will be elevated in the Messianic Age, when the world will reach a state of spiritual maturity. At that time, each and every Mitzvah we do will be akin to the Mitzvah of Bikkurim.

Moshiach Matters 

In the daily prayer “Uva L'Tziyon Goel U’Leshavei, And a redeemer shall come to Zion and to those who repent,” the last two letters of the word Goel - redeemer, (Alef Lamed), and the first two letters of the word U’Leshavei - and to those who repent, (Vav Lamed), spell Elul, signifying that th final month of the year, Elul, which is a month of repentance and preparation for the New Year, is also a time to prepare for the redemption. (Avudraham)  

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