Parshas Ki Tavo - The Recognition and Gratitude of Bikkurim
Updated: Jan 12, 2021
A Brief Overview of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim
A farmer in Israel goes out to his field and finds budding fruit from one of the seven species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates). He ties a reed around them and declares them to be bikkurim, first fruits. These fruits were packed in containers. If you were wealthy the containers were made of silver and gold. If you were poor the containers were made of grass and reeds. Between Shavuos and Succos these first fruits were brought to the Beis HaMikdash. How much are we obligated to bring? There is no amount too large but the minimum amount is one sixtieth of your crop.
When it came time to go to Yerushalayim everyone would gather in a central location and sleep there for the night. In the morning the leader would call out, “Arise and let us ascend to Zion, to G‑d our L‑rd.” Those who lived near brought fresh figs and grapes but those from a distance brought dried figs and raisins. An ox with horns bedecked with gold and with an olive crown on its head (representing the seven species from which the first fruits were taken) led the way. The flute was played before them until they approached Yerushalayim. As they were marching to Yerushalayim the people would call out, “I rejoiced when it was told me: ‘Let us go to the house of G‑d.” As they were travelling others would join their procession.
When they arrived close to Yerushalayim they arranged their bikkurim in a decorative display. The Governors and Chiefs and Treasurers of the Beis HaMikdash would go out to greet them.
As they entered Yerushalayim the people would say, ““Our feet were standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.” All the skilled artisans of Yerushalayim would proclaim, “Our brethren, the inhabitants of so-and-so, we are delighted to welcome you....”
When the procession reached the Temple Mount even King Agrippa would take the basket, put it on his shoulders and walk as far as the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash.
As they approached the courtyard the Leviim would sing “I will extol You, G‑d, for You have raised me up and have not suffered my enemies to rejoice over me . . .”
There, with the basket still on his shoulder, the farmer would make the first declaration: "I declare this day to the Lord, your God, that I have come to the land which the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us.”
He then held the edges of the basket while the Kohen held it from below and waved it up and down and in four directions before reciting the formula: “An Aramean sought to destroy my forefather and went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty and numerous nation. And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we cried out to the Lord, God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O Lord, have given to me."
The bikkurim were then placed near the southwest corner of the Mizbeach, the farmer would prostrate himself and then leave.
What happened to the Bikkurim? The Kohanim who were present at that time would divide the fruits among themselves and would eat the produce within the walls of Yerushalayim. And what of the containers that the bikkurim were brought in? If the containers were made of gold and silver they were returned to the owners. If they were the containers of the poor, made from grass and reeds, they were kept by the Kohanim.
The farmer would spend the night in Yerushalayim and was free to return home the next day.
Questions, Questions, Questions
Question # 1- The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (1:4) tells us that when the passuk describes the creation of the world it begins with the word Bereishis to teach us why God created the world. Klal Yisrael is called Reishis and therefore we can infer that the world was created for Klal Yisrael. Similarly, Bikkurim are called Reishis and therefore we can infer that the world was created for the Mitzvah of Bikkurim.
This is puzzling. Is Bikkurim such a profound Mitzvah that it was worth creating the world for it? If we were told that the world was created for the Mitzvah of honoring our parents it would be more readily understandable but Bikkurim? Why is this Mitzvah so significant?
When we look at the description of the procession that is part of the Mitzvah of bringing the Bikkurim it is clear that the bringing of the Bikkurim is seen as a major event. But why is this is so? Why all the pomp and circumstance for some small fruits?
Furthermore, Klal Yisrael and Bikkurim are not the only things in the Torah that are described as Reishis. “And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his discourse, and said, "Amalek was the first (reshis) of the nations, but his latter end shall be that of everlasting perdition." (Bamidbar 24:20) Would we say that the world was created for Amalek who is also called Reishis? If Bereishis is meant to be a reference to those things that are called Reishis, why is Amalek excluded? Reishis seems to be a title for that which is exceptionally holy. How could Amalek be worthy of such an appellation?
Question # 2 - Last week’s Parsha (Ki Teitzei ends with an obligation to wipe out Amalek.
Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt. How he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it. (Devarim 25:17-19)
This weeks Parsha begins with the Mitzvah to bring Bikkurim.
And it shall be, when you come in to the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and live in it. That you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that the Lord your God gives you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name there. (Devarim 26:1-2)
It seems as if there is some relationship between our obligation to destroy Amalek and the bringing of Bikkurim. What is the inner meaning of this connection?
Question # 3- In Parshas Reeh (12:6) the passuk says:
ווַֽהֲבֵאתֶ֣ם שָׁ֗מָּה עֹלֹֽתֵיכֶם֙ וְזִבְחֵיכֶ֔ם וְאֵת֙ מַעְשְׂרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם וְאֵ֖ת תְּרוּמַ֣ת יֶדְכֶ֑ם וְנִדְרֵיכֶם֙ וְנִדְבֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם וּבְכֹרֹ֥ת בְּקַרְכֶ֖ם וְצֹֽאנְכֶֽם:
And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and the elevation by your hand, and your vows and your donations, and the firstborn of your cattle and of your sheep.
What are the “Terumas Yadchem”, the elevation of the hands? The Sifri understands this to be a reference to Bikkurim as the passuk says, “The Kohen shall take the basket from your hand.”
The question is, we have seen that there is a Mitzvah to wave the bikkurim. Obviously this requires elevating the hands but is the elevation of the hands really what we should be focusing on? The main objective is the waving of the bikkurim not the hands that do the motions.
Question # 4- The passuk says that the farmer says to the Kohen… Rashi explains “and say to him: that you are not ungrateful [for all that God has done for you].
What a strange way for Rashi to express this sentiment. The Mitzvah of Bikkurim involves expressing the incredible gratitude we have to Hashem for all that he has done for us.
The Chinuch (Mitzvah 606) explains that the reason for Bikkurim is “Therefore, when Hashem, blessed is He, has been good to him and has blessed him and his land that it should yield produce, and he has merited to bring some to the House of our G-d, it is fitting for him to bestir his heart with the words of his mouth, and to reflect that all came to him from the Master of the Universe.”
So why does Rashi frame the farmers statement in the negative? Why is he merely expressing that he is not ungrateful? We would have expected Rashi to say that he declares the gratitude that he has to God for the produce he has been given?
Question # 5- In the middle of the bringing of the Bikkurim the farmer is commanded to make a declaration that references Lavans attempt to destroy Yaakov Avinu and our golus in Mitzrayim. If these words seem familiar it is because we say them at our Pesach Seder. Speaking about these two events in our history seems to be random at best and inappropriate at worst?
The bringing of the Bikkurim was a joyous occasion. The passuk says “Vesamachta bechol hatov” You shall rejoice with all the goodness that Hashem has given you. From here we learn that the one who brings the Bikkurim must be in a state of joy while performing this Mitzvah. For this reason we only bring Bikkurim between Shavuos and Succos which is the harvest season. Even if two crops were yielded in a single year we only bring Bikkurim once. Performing the Mitzvah twice would diminish its simcha.
Why then would we bring up our tragic past while performing this amazing Mitzvah. And if we are going to discuss the tragic life of Yaakov Avinu why stop with these two events? Why don’t we speak about Yaakov’s tumultuous relationship with Eisav?
Question # 6- The Mishna in Bikkurim (3:1) says: “How does a person set aside Bikkurim? He enters into his field and notices a newly-ripened fig, a newly ripened grape cluster, and a newly ripened pomegranate. He ties a blade of grass around each one and declares, ‘This is for Bikkurim.’ ”
One can bring Bikkurim for any of the seven species. Why does the Mishna only mention figs, grapes and pomegranates?
Adam HaRishon – Reishis and Achris
The Gemara in Chagigah (12a) teaches that before Adam sinned his feet were planted on the earth while his head was found in the heavens. The inner meaning of this teaching is that prior to the notion of sin there was a union between shomayim and aretz, heavens and earth. The sin of Adam caused a division between these two entities. No longer could the reishis, the beginning (shomayim), be seen in the acharis, the end (aretz). The end products that we see in this world (achris) are disjointed from their source in heaven (reishis).
This can be seen in the dialogue between Chava and the nachash. Chava said, “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God said, “You shall not eat of it and you shall not touch lest you die.” Chava clearly understood that her connection to life itself was predicated on her connection to God (reishis). If she sinned and ate from the tree she would be separated from the the reishis and death would be inevitable.
The nachash argues and says “you will surely not die.”
Rashi, citing the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 19:3) says that the nachash pushed her against the tree and said “just as you did not die by touching the tree so too you will not die from eating from it. In other words, the argument of the Nachash is that we exist as independent entities from God. What exists in this world is not essentially connected to God. There is no relationship between the reishis and the acharis. This is the argument of the ego. The Godly soul years to be in a constant state of connection with its maker. The ego sees itself as an independent entity and years to be independent.
With this in mind, we can understand why the punishment of the Nachash is that he is forced to slither on the ground. The ego must be humbled so that it can reconnect to its source.
Because of the sin of Adam and Chava, shomayim and aretz are now disconnected. God’s presence is no longer transparent in this world (Bereishis Rabbah 19:12). In a world with a revealed connection between shomayim and aretz they exist together seamlessly .As a result of the divide between reishis and acharis one can exist in either shomayim or aretz but not both simultaneously. This makes existence painful. Coming into this world is an agonizing process for the mother who births the child. With a fractious existence we are no capable of eternal life. Death was not a punishment for Adam and Chava, it was simply the consequence of living in a world where shomayim and aretz were no longer harmonious.
This is why the first two thousand years of creation are called Tohu, chaos (Sanhedrin 97a). With the divide between the reishis and the acharis the world was plunged into a state of chaos.
Avraham Avinu and the Rectification of Reishis and Achris
With the birth of Avraham Avinu in the year 1948, the era of chaos ended and ushered in two thousand years of Torah. In these two thousand years we are meant to bridge the gap between shomayim and aretz, between reishis and achris which will lead us into the last two thousand years of Mashiach. As we will see later when we discuss the role of Moshe Rabbeinu, the Torah unites us to our source in shomayim. Though Avraham Avinu was born before the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, the Gemara in Yoma (28b) teaches that Avraham learned and fulfilled the entirety of the Torah. In fact, the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 28:1) tells us that Hashem only gave the Torah to Moshe on Mount Sinai in the merit of Avraham.
The mission of Avraham Avinu and all his future progeny would be to restore the world to the way it was before Adam HaRishon sinned. Through Avraham Avinu the world will one day exist in a state of unification where reishis and acharis are seen as one. This explains why the passuk in Bereishis (15:5) says, “Gaze now towards the heavens.” and Rashi explains (quoting the Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah 44:12) that Hashem took Avraham Avinu out of the terrestrial sphere and above the stars. The Medrash is alluding to the spiritual mission of Avraham Avinu to rise above this world and see how it is all united in one reality.
This is also what the passuk in Bereishis (2:4) means when it says:
אֵ֣לֶּה תֽוֹלְד֧וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ בְּהִ֣בָּֽרְאָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם עֲשׂ֛וֹת יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶ֥רֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, on the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”
The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (12:9) says that the letters of the word בְּהִ֣בָּֽרְאָ֑ם , and he created, can be rearranged to spell the word Avraham. Already at the reishis of creation we can find Avraham Avinu. This is why Avraham’s name begins with Aleph and Beis, the first two letters of the Hebrew alpha bet.
The passuk in Yehoshua (14:15) says, "The man [who lived in Chevron] was the greatest of the giants." Chazal at the end of Maseches Sofrim explain that this refers to our forefather Avraham, whose height was equal to that of seventy-four men. The amount of food and drink he consumed was enough for seventy-four men, and he had the strength of that many men as well.
Chazal are not merely explaining to us the size of Avraham Avinu but are giving us an insight into his spiritual mission. Just as Adam was exceptionally large so too is Avraham Avinu.
But Chazal say he was as large as seventy four men. That is oddly specific? If Avraham is truly the embodiment of Adam HaRishon why doesn’t it say that he had his feet on the earth and his head in the heavens?
The Vilna Gaon explains (Kol Eliyahu 239) that the passuk in Shemos (24:9) says, “Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel climbed Har Sinai]...” Targum Onkleos explains that they gazed at Hashem and they ate and they drank. [They saw the Divine Glory, and when He accepted the offerings they brought to Him, they were as happy as if they had been eating and drinking.] In Avos D’Rebbe Nosson (1:8) he explains, “They were nourished from the Divine Presence, just as the angels.”
What does it mean that Moshe, Ahron, Nadav and Avihu and the seventy elders were eating in front of God? Do angels eat? The Gemara in Baba Metzia (86b) tells us that when the malachim visited Avraham Avinu they only appeared to be eating his food but in reality angels don’t eat. How could the eating of Moshe, Ahron, Nadav and Avihu be like the malachim when they themselves don’t eat?
In a world where shomayim and aretz are separated eating is seen as a mundane, physical activity that is only needed for survival. In a world the reshis and the acharis are connected eating plays a spiritual role as well. In fact the physical form of the food at that point is irrelevant as the soul is being nourished from its inner spiritual essence.
This is what the Gemara in Berachos (17a) means when it says that in the world to come there is no eating, and no drinking, no childbearing and no work, no jealousy, no hatred and no competition. Rather, the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and enjoy the Glory of the Divine Presence, as it is stated, "They gazed at Hashem and they ate and they drank."
When Moshe Rabbeinu was in shomayim for forty days he said "Bread I did not eat; water I did not drink" (Devarim 9:9). The Rabbeinu Bachya based on the Medrash explains that Moshe received his sustenance from the Kisei HaKavod.
When Klal Yisrael was in the desert for forty years we subsisted on Mana. The Gemara in Yoma (75b) quotes Rav Akiva as saying that Mana “was the bread upon which the angels subsist." The Jews in the desert lived in a reality where shomayim and aretz were united and thus they were able to be sustained through the spiritual food of the malachim.
When Moshe, Ahron, Nadav and Avihu and the seventy elders (seventy four people total) were eating a meal with God it means that they had reached a level where they were being sustained by the inner spiritual essence. They were experiencing a taste of the world to come. It was the same experience as Avraham and the Malachim. This is what the beraisa in Maseches Sofrim means when it says that Avraham could consume enough food for seventy four men. Far from being a gluttonous experience, this teaches us that when Avraham Avinu he ate in a fashion that united shomayim and aretz.
When Chazal say that Avraham was as tall as seventy-four people it means that Avraham reached the same spiritual heights as those seventy-four people who ascended Har Sinai.
Rashi in Bereishis (17:3) explains that until Avraham Avinu had his Bris Milah he could not appreciate the full extent of the Divine Presence in this world. Now that he had a Bris Milah he was as powerful as those seventy four men that lived with the connection of shomayim and aretz,
Yitzchak and the Rectification of Reishis and Achris
If Avraham can be found at the reishis, at the beginning, uniting the beginning and the end, it follows that Yitzchak can be found at the acharis, the end, uniting everything to the beginning.
This is why Yitzchak’s name is written in the future tense. Yitzchak means, he will laugh. The gemara in Avodah Zarah (3b) says there’s no laughter before Hashem except in the future. The passuk in Tehillim (126:2) says, אָ֚ז יִמָּלֵ֪א שְׂחֹ֡ק פִּינוּ֘, Then our mouths will be filled with laughter. The passuk in Mishlei (31:25) says, וַ֜תִּשְׂחַ֗ק לְי֣וֹם אַחֲרֽוֹן, and she laughs at the last day.
In Judaism laughter is always seen in the future. When we live in the era of Olam Haba and we see the connection between shomayim and aretz, between reishis and acharis, then we will experience true simcha.
This is why the event where Avraham attempted to shecht Yitzchak is called Akeidas Yuitzchak, the binding of Yitzchak. One would have expected that the event would be defined by the knife that Avraham brought to kill Yitzchak. Why is it called Akeidas Yitzchak? It was at this seminal event that Avraham (reishis) and Yitzchak (the laughter of acharis) were bound together. This is why the passuk in Bereishis (26:18) tells us “And Isaac again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham, and the Philistines had stopped them up after Abraham's death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them.” Avraham is the reishis and Yitzchak is the acharis. It follows that Yiztchak saw his mission as that of a continuation of the work of his father. At the Akeida the reishis and the acharis were bound together.
With this in mind, we can understand the connection between Akeidas Yitzchak and Rosh Hashana. As we all know on the second day of Rosh Hashana we read the story of Akeidas Yitzchak. Furthermore, as the Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (56:10) notes we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana because Avraham sacrificed a ram at the Akedai in lieu of Yitzchak.
Rosh Hashana is the day on which the world was created (reishis) and the day on which God determines the course of our entire year (achris).
The shofar of Akeidas Yitzchak symbolizes the binding of reishis and achris.
Rosh Hashana is the day on which the world was created (reishis) and the day on which God determines the course of our entire year (the achris that is embedded in the reishis). We also blow the shofar as a foreshadowing of the day of judgement at the end of days (achris) as the passuk in Zephania (1:16) says “a day of shofar and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers.” Furthermore, in the times of Mashiach (achris) the great shofar will be blown to gather together all of the Jewish Nation that have been scattered around the globe. Lastly, the passuk in Yeshaya (18:3) says “dwellers of the earth ... a shofar is sounded you shall hear.” in reference to the shofar that will be blown by techias hameisim (acharis).
We can clearly see that the shofar is the perfect instrument to represent the binding of reishis and achris.
Yaakov and the Rectification of Reishis and Achris
As we have seen the name of Avraham symbolized reishis (aleph beis) while the name of Yitzchak symbolized achris (Yitzchak is future tense).
Yaakov is the middah of Tiferes which harmonizes Chesed (Avraham) and Gevura (Yitzchak). It is therefore fitting that the name Yaakov embodies both reishis and achris. The Yud of Yaakov represents the Godly source of all things (shomayim) while Eikev means heel (aretz).
As we mentioned above, ego is the source of the disconnect between shomayim and aretz. It is fitting that the Baal HaTurim points out the gematria of Yaakov is Malach HaElokim. Just as the malachim are totally nullified before God with no ego whatsoever so too Yaakov Avinu totally subjugates his ego before God uniting shomayim and aretz.
This explains why Yaakov Avinu experiences the prophecy of Malachim ascending and descending a ladder at the Makom HaMikdash. The Makom HaMikdash is the place where creation began (reishis) and where shomayim and aretz exist harmoniously.
The Gemara in Baba Metzia (84a) tells us that the beauty of Yaakov Avinu was like the beauty of Adam HaRishon. The Gemara is not simply telling us that Adam and Yaakov had similar appearances. Rather the Gemara is expressing that just as Avraham and Yitzchak took upon themselves the mission of rectifying the sin of Adam HaRishon so too did Yaakov Avinu. This is what the Gemara in Taanis (5b) means when it teaches that Yaakov Avinu did not die. If Adam brought death into this world by following his ego and dividing reishis and achris, Yaakov lived forever by conquering his ego and uniting reishis and achris.
(This mission was carried on by Yaakov’s son Yosef. When Yaakov sent Yosef to his brothers the last lesson he taught him was the lesson of the egla arufa. Twenty two years later when Yosef sent word back to his father that he was alive he referenced the last shiur he heard from Yaakov by sending back agalos. Not only was Yosef providing proof that it was actually him who was now the viceroy of Mitzrayim he was also connecting the reishis and the achris which was his spiritual mission.)
Eisav Continues the Sin of Adam HaRishon
Eisav is the spiritual heir of the Nachash. The passuk tells us that Esiav was yodea tzayuid, a man of the field. Targum Onkelos translates the words Yodea Tzayid to mean Nachshirchan. It is not clear exactly what this word means and many explanations are offered. The Tzioni explains that it is a hybrid of two words, nachash and yarchan which means that Eisav had a tattoo of a nachash (the nachash) on his thigh.
Just as the Nachash did not believe that there was a connection between shomayim and aretz neither did Eisav.
The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah tells us that when Eisav saw Yaakov preparing a stew he asked why he was doing so. Yaakov informed Eisav that it was because Avraham Avinu had died. Eisav asked Yaakov, did he encounter the middas hadin (attribute of justice - Avraham died younger then we would have expected)? Yaakov responded that indeed he did encounter the middas hadin. Knowing the righteous nature of Avraham Avinu Eisav declared, if this is so then there is no system of reward and punishment and nor will there be a revival of the dead. Immediately afterwards Eisav sells his birthright to Eisav and proclaims, "Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?"
For those that believe in a united reishis and achris it is obvious that there is a system of reward and punishment. What we do in the beginning has consequences in the end. In denying a system of reward and punishment he is denying that there is a union between shomayim and aretz. To Eisav, death is the only reality.
Thus in his world, Eisav is the prime force. The only reality that matters. This is the distortion of reishis. It is not the beginning that leads to an end but a beginning that is by and for itself.
A bechor is called reishis as the passuk in Tehillim (105:36) says, וַיַּ֣ךְ כָּל־בְּכ֣וֹר בְּאַרְצָ֑ם רֵ֜אשִׁ֗ית לְכָל־אוֹנָֽם, And He smote every firstborn in their land, the first of all their strength. Furthermore, the passuk in Bereishis (49:3) says, רְאוּבֵן֙ בְּכֹ֣רִי אַ֔תָּה כֹּחִ֖י וְרֵאשִׁ֣ית אוֹנִ֑י יֶ֥תֶר שְׂאֵ֖ת וְיֶ֥תֶר עָֽז, Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength and the first of my might. [You should have been] superior in rank and superior in power.
Eisav distorts his standing as the bechor, the firstborn (reishis) and sees himself as the primal power, independent from God.
The Battle Between Yaakov and Eisav is the Battle for Reishis and Achris
The battle between Yaakov and Eisav is a reenactment of the battle between Adam and the Nachash. This time Yaakov (as Adam) will be victorious.
Already at birth Yaakov holds onto the heel of Eisav. Whereas Eisav sees only the Reishis (ego = I am the prime power) Yaakov seeks to connect the reishis with the achris by holding on to Eisavs heel. Yaakov Avinu buys the birthright from Eisav in order to wrestle away the corrupted notion of reishis from him.
When Yitzchak gives the bracha of the bechor to Yaakov this enrages Eisav. Why? Did Eisav not already declare that he was uninterested in uniting shomayim and aretz? Eisav’s ego demands that the world be independent from God. Yaakov Avinu and his attempt to unify shomayim and aretz represent a threat to Eisav and his way of life. Now Yaakov must be killed.
Interestingly we see that when Yaakov Avinu is fleeing from Eisav the passuk in Bereishis tells us (28:11) “And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place.” The Gemara in Chullin (91b) explains that the sun had set suddenly in the middle of the daytime. When Yaakov went into galus he now lived in a state of darkness. At night it is difficult to see. We live in a state of confusion and doubt.
Before Yaakov confronts Eisav he first does battle with the Malach of Eisav. The passuk (32:25) tells us, “And Jacob was left alone, and a man וַיֵּֽאָבֵ֥ק(wrestled) with him until the break of dawn.” Chazal explain that the word וַיֵּֽאָבֵ֥ק means wrestled but it also has the root of the word dust. This is because the dust from their fight ascended all the way up to the Kisei HaKavod. In other words, Yaakov Avinu who has Eikev (heel) in his name has now connected the Avak (same letters as Eikev) of the aretz all the way to the highest points in shomayim.
It is no wonder that now that Yaakov is victorious and he has united shomayim and aretz the sun rises for him in the middle of the night (Bereishis Rabbah 68:10). When reishis and achris are disconnected we live in a state of doubt and fear. Death could be anywhere. When shomayim and aretz are unified the sun comes out in the middle of the night. No longer do we live in a state of confusion but of clarity. Darkness brings death but the sun brings healing.
This is why the Gemara in Nedarim (8b) says thatat the end of days the sun will be the tool used by Hashem to burn up the wicked and heal the righteous. The wicked like Eisav cannot bare the sun because it creates the clarity and transparency to see how the reishis and the acharis are connected. For them it is a punishment. For the righteous the plan of God is now apparent and it heals all the wounds of the darkness. Rashi citing this Gemara says that with the rising of the sun Yaakov Avinu was healed from his injuries from his fight with the Malach of Eisav. Yaakov’s victory over Eisav was a glimpse into the sun that will one day shine in Yemos HaMashiach. This is why it is Yaakov Avinu who instituted the Teffila of Maariv for it is Yaakov Avinu who brings light to the darkness.
The Hands that Unite Heaven and Earth
The Gemara in Kesubos (5a) teaches in the name of Bar Kafra, “The deeds of the righteous are greater than the deeds of creating the Heaven and Earth. Regarding the creation of the Heavens and Earth it is written, “Also, my hand has laid the foundations of the earth, and My right hand has measured out the heavens.“ (Yeshayahu 48:13) Whereas regarding the acts of the righteous it is written, “Sanctuary, my Lord, that Your hands established.” (Shemos 15:17)
In other words, God created the totality of the world with two hands but heaven and earth were each only created with one hand. The Mishkan on the other hand was created with both hands of God simultaneously and is therefore given greater importance.
What is the significance of the fact that the world was created with God’s hands? That the Mishkan was made with both hands at once?
The fact that the heavens and the earth were created by Gods individual hands means that there is a separation between heaven and earth. Though that separation was made more dratsic by Adam HaRishon it already existed in creation itself. The Mikdash, having been created with both of God’s hands at once, represents the world in its united state where reishis and achris are seen as one.
Hands represent power. That which we create in our world is called our “maasei yadayim”, the work of our hands. When properly channeled our hands have the capacity to unite creation. Uniting shomayim and aretz is also known as connecting the Reishis (beginning) with the acharis (end).
This is why we learn the definition of melacha from the work that was done in the Mishkan. The Avodas HaMishkan defines the nature of work in this world. The hands that work in the Beis HaMikdash unite the heavens and earth and encapsulate our mission in the world.
The Gemara in Kesubos (104a) says regarding Rav Yehuda HaNasi that at the time he was departing from this world he raised his ten fingers towards heaven and said, “Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known to you that I toiled with my ten fingers in Torah and I did not derive pleasure even from my little finger.” Now we know that the Gemara in Kesubos (57b) also tells us that Rav Yehuda HaNasi was exceptionally wealthy. The Gemara in Gittin (59b) even goes so far as to say that from the times of Moshe Rabbeinu until Rav Yehuda HaNasi we did not find Torah and material wealth in one place. It is clear that Rav Yehuda HaNasi was not devoid of material possessions and yet his hands were used exclusively in the pursuit of Torah. The Gemara in Shabbos (118b) tells us that he was called Rabbeinu HaKadosh because he would never place his hands below his belt. In other words, the hands of Rav Yehuda HaNasi were those that united heaven and earth.
The power of our hands also has the capacity to lead us astray. A person could mistakenly come to the conclusion that they draw their power from within and not from Hashem. This is what the passuk in Devarim (8:17) means when it says, וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֖ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י עָ֥שָׂה לִ֖י אֶת־הַחַ֥יִל הַזֶּֽה:, and you will say to yourself, "My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me." When our hands are guided by God they serve to unite heaven and earth. When our hands are guided by our own arrogance they are forces of fragmentation and division.
This explains why the Mitzvah of Netillas Yadayim in the morning is so important. The Rashba says that our morning Netillas Yadayim represents the Kohanim washing their hands in order to start their service in the Beis HaMikdash. By washing our hands in the morning we act like the Kohanim in the Mikdash and we are now ready to use our hands appropriately throughout the day. Many have the custom to raise their hands after washing them and declare, “lift your hands in the sanctuary and bless Hashem.” (Tehillim 134:2) Through the Mitzvah of Netillas Yadayim we elevate our hands so that they will serve God and unite the world.
Amalek Continues in the Ways of Eisav
Billam in Bamidbar (24:20) describes Amalek as “the first among nations but its end will be eternal destruction.”
Earlier we asked how Amalek could be worthy of the title Reishis like Klal Yisrael and Bikkurim. A more careful examination of the passuk indicates that while Amalek is called Reishis they are disconnected from the acharis
This is the role that Amalek plays in the world. The mission of Klal Yisrael is to use our hands in such a fashion that unites shomayim and aretz, reishis and acharis. The mission of Amalek is to reject the notion that there is a beginning that culminates in an end. Like their grandfather Eisav, Amalek sees shomayim as separate from aretz. There is no reward and punishment to Amalek. All that is left for them is death and eternal destruction.
The passuk in Shemos (17:16) says וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כִּי־יָד֙ עַל־כֵּ֣ס יָ֔הּ מִלְחָמָ֥ה לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה בַּֽעֲמָלֵ֑ק מִדֹּ֖ר דֹּֽר, And he said, For there is a hand on the throne of the Eternal, [that there shall be] a war for the Lord against Amalek from generation to generation.
The Medrash Tanchuma (Ki Teitzei 11) explains that Amalek separates the reishis of God’s name (Yud Hey) from the acharis of God’s name (Vav Hey). Only when Amalek is wiped out will God’s name be restored in the world when once again the reishis and the acharis will be connected.
This is their power in the world. Rashi in Devarim (25:18) quotes the Medrash Tanchuma who compares Amalek to someone who jumps into a cauldron of boiling water.
“He cooled you off and made you appear tepid, after you were boiling hot, for the nations were afraid to fight with you (just as people are afraid to touch something hot). But Amalek came forward and started and showed the way to others. This can be compared to a bathtub of boiling water into which no living creature could descend. Along came an irresponsible man and jumped headlong into it! Although he scaleded himself, he succeeded in making others think that it was cooler than it actually was.”
Why would others attack us even after we defeated Amelek? This is the secret of Amalek. They cool down the water with their very presence. They introduce darkness to situations of light by disconnecting the reishis and the achris..
Amalek is the same gematria as safek. When Yaakov fled from Eisav the world was plunged into a state of darkness even in the middle of the day. When reishis and acharis are disconnected we live in a state of safek. The passuk in Mishlei (15:30) says, “There is no joy like the joy of the resolution of safek (doubt).The destruction of Amalek (of doubt) comes about through the connection between reishis and acharis and therefore comes with the ultimate experience of joy.
This explains why Amalek attacked us immediately after Krias Yam Suf. At Krias Yam Suf we experienced the ultimate simcha when the Reishis and Acharis were connected. After 210 years of exile in Mitzrayim we saw how each and every Egyptian was perfectly punished as they drowned in the Yam Suf. The connection between shomayim and aretz was made totally transparent and our shira was the expression of the joy we were experiencing. This is in line with the Tikkunei Zohar who says that the letters of the word Bereishis can be rearranged to taav shir, He desired song. When a person is connected to the reishis his natural posture will be in song and God desires that we sing the song associated with the connection of reishis and acharis.
Rashi explains (Shemos 15:1) that hidden in Az Yashir is a hint to techias hameisim. How does Rashi see this in Az Yashir? Since Krias Yam Suf was the experience of the connection between reishis and acharis it is clear to Rashi that the ultimate acharis of techias hameisim must be hidden within Az Yashir.
Furthermore, Amalek fights against us when they sense a weakness in our loyalty to the mission of connecting the reishis to the acharis. Klal Yisrael (Shemos 17:7) asked, “Is Hashem among us or not?” Klal Yisrael had fallen for the trap of kochi viotzem yadi, thinking that our hands are what made us successful and not utilizing our hands to connect the reishis and the acharis.
The Hands of Moshe Rabbeinu Defeat the Hands of Amalek
The Gemara in Shabbos (88b) tells us that when Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to shomayim to receive the Torah the Malachim could not understand why Hashem would give the Torah to mere mortals. Rather than answer the Malachim Himself, God instructs Moshe to answer in His stead. Moshe is reticent to answer and explains to God that he is threatened by the fire that will consume him from the mouths of the angels. God instructs Moshe to grab on to the Kisei HaKavod which will provide him safety and then he can answer the Malachim. Moshe does so and proceeds to argue why the Torah belongs on earth. He argues that it was Klal Yisrael who was taken out of Egypt (as it says in the Torah) and not the Malachim. He argues that the Torah instructs us not to worship idols. This is only an issue for humanity and is of no consequence to Malachim. The Torah instructs us to keep Shabbos, not to take the name of God in vain, to honor our parents, to avoid murder, adultery, theft and jealousy. All of these are struggles for a person but have no bearing on the life of an angel. Moshe concludes his argument by saying that it is man who has an evil inclination. Angels do not.
The Torah unites heaven and earth. The passuk in Shemos (19:20) says, וַיֵּ֧רֶד יְהוָֹ֛ה עַל־הַ֥ר סִינַ֖י אֶל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר וַיִּקְרָ֨א יְהוָֹ֧ה לְמשֶׁ֛ה אֶל־רֹ֥אשׁ הָהָ֖ר וַיַּ֥עַל משֶֽׁה, “The Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the peak of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the peak of the mountain, and Moses ascended.” Hashem comes down upon the mountain. Moshe ascends. Heaven and earth united. This is the role of the Torah. In the 2000 years of chaos that we mentioned earlier there was a separation between shomayim and aretz. With the giving of the Torah a process of healing began.
Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid to argue with the Malachim because of the frailty of the human condition. How could someone afflicted with the desire to steal and commit adultery be worthy of receiving the Torah? God told Moshe to use his hands to grab on to the Kisei HaKavod. Like the ladder in the Nevua of Yaakov, Moshe Rabbeinu himself is a bridge between shomayim and aretz. From this perspective our mortal weaknesses now become advantages in his argument. It is our weakness that makes us uniquely earthly. It is our Godliness that gives us the capacity to grab on to the Kisei HaKavod. If the Torah is meant to bridge the gap between heaven and earth it cannot remain in the domain of the angels.
Appropriately, our war with Amalek is centered around the hands of Moshe Rabbeinu. The same hands that grabbed on to the Kisei HaKavod. When Moshe Rabbeinu lifted his hands we were victorious. When he lowered his hands Amalek would begin to win the battle. The Mishna in Rosh Hashana asks, do the hands of Moshe Rabbeinu win the battle or is it Hashem? The Mishna answers, when Klal Yisrael looked at Moshe Rabbeinu’s hands, their hearts were focused on Hashem and dependent on His mercy. In this fashion they were victorious.
It follows that this Mishna is located in Rosh Hashana. As we said above Rosh Hashana is the day that embodies the unification of reishis and achris.
Bikkurim - Back to Basics – Bringing It All Together
The most fundamental question one can ask is, why did God create the world?
Throughout the ages our Sages have offered various answers to this question.
The Ramban in Shemos (13:16) writes: “The purpose of all the Mitzvos is that we should believe in our God and lehodos to Him that He has created us.”
What does the word lehodos mean? It means acknowledge, confess or thank. Whereas the Rambam (Maimonidies) focuses on knowledge of God, the Ramban (Nachamanidies) focuses on thanking God. To the Ramban, hakaras hatov, the gratitude and appreciation we express to God, is fundamental to our very reason for being.
As Rashi pointed out, the fundamental reason for Bikkurim is show that we are not ungrateful for the gifts that God has given us. We can now understand why the world was created for the Mitzvah of Bikkurim. Bikkurim expresses more than any other Mitzvah our reason for existence. By fulfilling the Mitzvah of bringing the first fruits we fulfill God’s mission for creation.
But in truth it is even deeper than that.
The whole mission of Judaism is to unite shomayim and aretz, reishis and achris. Adam failed in this regard. The rectification of the sin of Adam was embodied in the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak. It was the battle between Yaakov and Eisav. Between Moshe and the Malachim.
The litmus test to see if we are leading lives that unite reishis and achris is whether or not we have gratitude to Hashem.
Immediately following the sin of Adam HaRishon he realizes that he is naked. God asks him, “Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat? The man said, the woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.” Rashi on the spot points out, from here we see that Adam HaRishon lacked gratitude.
The Gemara in Avodah Zara (5a) tells us that when Klal Yisrael complained about the manna in the Midbar, Moshe called them ingrates the children of ingrates. Just as Adam HaRishon was ungrateful for Chava so too Klal Yisrael was ungrateful for the manna they had received. When shomayim and aretz are united we sense that what we have came from above and we are grateful for everything that God has given us. When we are in a state of disconnection, we fail to recognize the gifts we have been given.
In other words, our reason for existence is to express gratitude to God for our very creation. When Adam sinned the opportunity to express gratitude became that much more challenging as our world appears to be cut off from its source. The Bikkurim that express our gratitude to Hashem is the prime expression of our Jewish mission to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon and unite reishis and achris. We take the first of our fruits (reishis) when they are ready to eat (achris) and bring them to the Beis HaMikdash where the world began (reishis).
This explains why the Mishna specifically highlights the opportunity to bring ripened figs as Bikkurim. The Gemara in Berachos (40a) tells us that the Eitz HaDaas that Adam HaRishon ate from was a fig tree. In Bereishis (3:7) we see that Adam and Chava covered their nakedness with a fig leaf. The Bikkurim were a tikkun of the for the cheit of Adam HaRishon when he used figs inappropriately.
This also explains why Rashi frames the declaration of the farmer in the negative. “You are not ungrateful for all that God has done for you.” Our Bikkurim stand in contrast to Adam HaRishon and the lack of gratitude that he showed to God. Of course, the farmer is grateful for what God has given him. But when we see the Mitzvah of Bikkurim as the tikkun for the cheit of Adam HaRishon it makes more sense to see that we, as opposed to Adam HaRishon, are not ungrateful.
It is now readily understandable why Bikkurim are called Terumas Yadchem and why we must elevate the Bikkurim together with the Kohen. The hands of Yaakov grabbing on to Eisav, of Moshe grabbing on to the Kisei HaKavod, are also the same hands that elevate the Bikkurim. In elevating our hands, we unite shomayim and aretz just as Moshe did when we waged war against Amalek.
Why must he do so with the Kohen? We know that Malachim have one leg as the passuk in Yechezkel (1:7) says, “Their legs were a straight leg…” The Gemara in Berachos (10b) says that we keep our feet together during davening so that we resemble the angels. Alternatively we are mimicking the Kohanim who would walk about the Temple taking dignified baby steps; the heel of one foot would not extend beyond the toe of the other (Yerushalmi Berachos 1:1). The Perishah (Tur, Orach Chaim 95) explains that the Kohanim themselves were mimicking the Malachim and therefore it is all one explanation. The identifying characteristic of a Malach is the total nullification they have before Hashem. The Kohanim embody this nullification and therefore when they raise their hands it is an expression of the total recognition they have for God in this world. This explains why when the Kohanim recite the Priestly blessings they raise up their hands. In elevating their hands with total recognition of God they unite the heavens and the earth and are thus appropriate channels to bring Hashems blessings into this world.
Therefore, when the farmer joins together with the Kohen he is adopting the paradigm of the Kohen (as we do when we wash nettilas yadayim in the morning) and stands in total recognition of God in this world. The very hands that were in danger of seeing the world as if they were their own power now submit themselves before God. In this way the essence of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim is being fulfilled. Of course, the waving of the Bikkurim was the Maaseh Mitzvah but it is identified with the elevation of the hands because that is the purpose of the Mitzvah. Terumas Yadchem is thus an appropriate appellation for Bikkurim.
Earlier we asked why the farmer makes a declaration that speaks about Lavan and our Golus in Mitzrayim.
By now the answer ought to be obvious.
The defining middah of Lavan was his lack of gratitude. After twenty years of working for Lavan, Yaakov asks him permission to return home. Lavan refuses. He has learned through divination that the blessings of his house are a result of Yaakov Avinu. When Yaakov leaves, he pursues him with the intent of murdering him. Lavan understood that the bracha he received was on account of Yaakov Avinu and yet he expresses no gratitude for all that he has done for him. Lavan knew the source of his blessing and yet because of his disconnect between reishis and achris, between source and consequence, he could not express gratitude for all that he had done.
We find the same theme in Mitzrayim. Yosef HaTzaddik saved Mitzrayim from certain destruction. And yet just a short while after his death, Pharaoh acts as if he has never even heard of Yosef HaTzaddik (Sotah 11a). Citing the Medrash in Shemnos Rabbah (1:8) the Rabbeinu Bechaya says that anyone who fails to express gratitude for the kindness that is done for him by a fellow man will ultimately come to deny God. Pharaoh acted as if he did not know Yosef and failed to express his gratitude and therefore ultimately came to deny the existence of God. Returning to the Ramban above we can easily understand why recognizing God and expressing our gratitude to Him are actually two sides of one coin.
It is no wonder that bringing the Bikkurim is a cause for such celebration. When we see someone bringing the Bikkurim we are compelled to join them. The simple farmer and his offering of his first fruits justifies all of creation. By connecting his reishis and his achris he has defeated Amalek and as we said when we defeat doubt we experience true joy. Is there a greater Mitzvah worthy of such pomp and circumstance?
Bikkurim and Eretz Yisrael
According to the Arizal one of the reasons we bring Bikkurim is to rectify the sin of the Meraglim. Rav Menachem Zemba zt”l explains that when the Meraglim brought back fruits from Eretz Yisrael they brought figs, grapes and pomegranates. As the passuk in Bamidbar (13:23) says, “They arrived at the Valley of Eshkol and cut from there a vine with one cluster of grapes and bore it on a double pole and of the pomegranates and of the figs. This explains why the Mishna in Bikkurim specifically listed these three fruits for Bikkurim despite the fact that any of the seven species can be brought for Bikkurim.
The Meraglim were living in a time where reishis and achris were clearly connected. Hashem took care of all their needs. When God told them that they would be entering Eretz Yisrael they could not bare to leave their state of dveikus with Hashem. But this is the mission of Klal Yisrael. To unite shomayim and aretz one must be firmly entrenched in the land and maintain total recognition and gratitude for God.
This explains why the Sifri says that it is in the zechus of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim we will be zocheh to come into Eretz Yisrael. The passuk in Devarim (11:12) describes Eretz Yisrael as the “land that Hashem your God seeks out, the eyes of Hashem your God are always upon it, from the beginning (reishis) of the year to years end (achris). In Eretz Yisrael the reishis and the achris are connected.
Bikkurim and Baskets – Body and Soul
The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l (Likuttei Sichos volume 29 page 150) teaches that the Bikkurim represent the soul while the basket they are placed in represents the body. The word for basket in our parsha is טנא. The shoresh of the word טנא is טנ which in Aramaic means body. Specifically it refers to the female body because the body is female when it receives light from the divine soul. Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains that the Aleph in the word טנא represents the thousand lights of creation which fill the vessel of creation.
Those that were wealthy had vessels made of gold and silver. Their vessels were returned to them. Those that were poor had the privilege of giving their baskets to the Kohen as well. On a deeper level this means that those vessels that maintain their own independence cannot be given over to the Kohen. Shomayim and aretz, reishis and achris remain separate. The poor man comes with a simple basket. The basket is nullified to the fruit, the body is nullified to the soul and therefore it too is given over to the Kohen.
Our job in this world is to humble ourselves before God. In so doing we can recognize and express gratitude for the fact that he is the source (reishis) of all that we have (achris). Leading a life humility and gratitude rectifies the sin of Adam HaRishon and ultimately ushers in the era of Olam Haba where we will live in a unified shomayim and aretz.