Bikkurim and Gratitude

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Leora Balinksy

The mitzvah of Bikkurim found in Parshat Ki Tavo contains rich symbolism that highlights the importance of gratitude to God. I would like to share the ideas of three thinkers who adorn this message with their connections and explanations.

The Sfas Emes  (Ki Tavo, 5634) points out the juxtaposition of Ki Tavo with Parshat Zachor, wherein Bnei Yisrael are commanded to eradicate the name of Amalek.. In this week’s parsha, the fruits that must be brought as an offering are referred to as “Reishit Kol Pri Ha’adama” (Dev. 26:3). Similarly, Amalek is referred to elsewhere as “Reishit Goyim” (Bamidbar 24:20).

Amalek is conceived of as the spiritual, ideological enemy of Bnei Yisrael, who do not submit to God’s will.  The Sfas Emes explains that the name of God cannot be full until the name of Amalek is erased, because by seeing themselves as the first and most supreme, they deny the supremacy of Hashem. The mitzvah of Bikkurim showcases that Bnei Yisrael are not meant to share this trait. Through Bikkurim, we are meant to recognize the true First- God- and submit to Him.

Martin Buber, in his article “Bikkurim” (quoted by Rav Elchanan Samet) beautifully addresses this point:

“The essence of acknowledging Divine sovereignty lies in man’s gratitude to the Creator as the source of all the good, and his appreciation that man himself is, in no way, responsible for all that the might of his own hand has accomplished. Failure to realize this implies repudiation of the yoke and fear of heaven and all the evil consequences that flow therefrom. This is indeed the subject of the warnings contained in Moses’s address to the people in Deuteronomy. They would forget God’s bounty and imagine that they were the authors of all the benefits they were enjoying the in Promised Land. There were therefore bidden to perform a rite that would act as a constant reminder that the “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”, that everything as a gift bestowed by Him and He was responsible for all their prosperity, the bringing of the first fruits. Indeed, all such offerings constituted acknowledgement of Divine overlordship.

Similarly, the Akeidat Yitzchak (citied by Nechama Leibowitz in her writings on Ki Tavo) connects this message of gratitude to the Psukim that must be uttered upon giving the Bikkurim.

“This ‘bringing’ of the bikkurim and that ‘bringing’ to the land are included together in the prayer with a covert parallel (9-10): ‘And He BROUGHT us to this place… and now I HAVE BROUGHT the first of the fruits of the land…’ What is expressed here is the mutual interaction between God and His nation. ‘I was brought by Him to this fertile land,’ says the farmer, ‘and now I am bringing Him some of its fruit.’ This conveys more than just gratitude. The entire land is given to the nation by God’s hand; the produce which the man who is brought there brings from the ground is likewise from God’s blessing and His actions; one cannot GIVE Him something of it, but one may BRING Him something – the choicest of the first fruits as a symbol and as sanctification.”

The idea of Hakarat Hatov, of gratitude, is simple and often spoken about, but too often not realized. May we merit to infuse the messages of Bikkurim laid out by the above thinkers into all facets of our lives.

Leora Balinksy (SBM 2016) is a sophomore at Barnard College.

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