י״ז באלול ה׳תשע״ג (August 23, 2013)
…You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground … and you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the L-rd, your G-d, will choose to have His Name dwell there — Deut 26:2
A new farmer goes into a farm supply store and orders two hundred chicks, explaining to the owner that he wants to start a poultry operation. Two weeks later, he returns to the store and buys another two hundred chicks. The owner is curious, but doesn’t say anything. When he returns for the third time, the owner’s curiosity is too much for him, so he asks the new farmer what’s going on. The farmer says, “Well, I guess I must be doing something wrong, but I don’t know what. I think I’m either planting them too deep or too close together!”
We read this week about the mitzva of the First Fruits (Bikkurim) and the detailed instructions the farmers were given for this commandment. At the first sign of a fruit (from the 7 species) appearing on the branch the farmer was to tie a ribbon around it and later, when fully ripened, those very fruits would be taken to the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem and given to a Kohen (Priest).
What is the reason for this elaborate ritual of tying a ribbon and marking the first fruit? What difference does it make to G-d which fruit is brought to the Beit HaMikdash, the first or the last? Why not just pick the finest fruit?
The answer given is a logical one: This mitzva teaches us in a tangible manner that what we own does not really belong to us. Despite the feelings of ownership a farmer has towards his harvest … despite the joy he feels when the fruit ripens on time, nevertheless the first fruits go to the House of G-d, the Beit HaMikdash. Yes, the farmer has invested time, effort, sweat and tears in producing this fine harvest, but the first fruits belong to G-d. Not only the first fruits … from every crop a percentage is also given to the Kohanim, then ten percent to the Levites, and then in certain years, ten percent to the poor.
Human nature is such that the farmer would want to taste the very first fruit that his hard work has produced, but the Torah tells us that those very fruits must go to G-d, in recognition that without His blessing nothing would grow at all. Yes you worked hard for this – but don’t forget who stands behind the scenes: G-d. And whatever He grants you, part of it belongs to Kohen, part to the Levite and part to the poor.
This does not apply only to food, it applies to money too. Despite the fact that we work hard for what we earn, and we feel it is ours to spend as we please – the Torah teaches us differently. The Jewish perspective on charity is that any money we have in our possession is there only on trust – for us to act as responsible trustees. Part of the money we earn is technically not ours – it is simply deposited with us to return to its rightful owners. The needy man or woman to whom we give that money is actually the real owner of the money – but G-d wanted a system where some have and some do not, and the former help the latter. So the first thing we do when receiving a pay cheque, or making a profitable business deal – is to give ten percent to G-d – to charity.
Money can do strange things to people. If you take a pane of glass from a window and coat one side with silver you create a mirror. Through the window you could see others, including those who are less fortunate and need help – but in a mirror you can only see yourself.
From the mitzva of Bikkurim in this parsha we learn a powerful message: All that we possess is only thanks to the blessings of the Almighty, and not solely to our efforts. When we do have, we must share with others and not allow the “silver” to block our view of those outside.
As we stand now in the month of Elul it is an especially auspicious time to give charity generously, so that on Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgement, G-d will be generous with us too. Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Zalman Lent
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