This week''s Parsha contains the mitzvah of Bikkurim – the ceremonial offering of the first fruits. The Talmud [Bava Kama 92a] comments regarding this ceremony, "the poor get poorer". 

Why? One answer is that when the wealthy brought their first fruits on silver and golden trays, the Priests would return the trays to the owners. However, when the poor brought their fruit in simple reed baskets the Kohanim would not return the baskets to them. This appears to be one of life''s typical inequities -- the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

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But is there a deeper intent behind this statement?
For me, deeper reasons usually arise from consulting my own experience. - I think of my own first fruits. I have been living on the land of Israel for a number years now…And what do I have to show for it? What have I produced? What can I really offer up? 

 Surely I have nothing akin to fruits on silver trays. I left behind all hopes of silver when I left America. If anything, I have worked laboriously to but build a basket. Life here often feels like an intensive exercise in building my vessel to hold greater light, weaving my metaphorical basket 

 Yet the laborious time spent constructing the basket is precious. The Hassidic master, the Mevo Sharim writes, “The holiness of the vessel is greater than that of the light which it holds.” Usually one thinks of the vessel as being secondary to the light (as the glass is secondary to the wine). But the Mevo Sharim turns that notion inside-out, stating that it is the vessel (the basket) which is even more precious than the light (the fruits inside). 

 This answers our question why the Priests would keep the baskets of the poor. For their baskets, their strivings to but create a vessel in the world, were such an integral and sacred part of their offerings. All of our work to build foundations, though impressive it may not be, is sacred work. All the more so when the poorest amongst us have sweated and struggled to weave our basket while the rich tote silver trays. 

 The Priests receiving and keeping of the baskets shows that those thankless hours of labor and sweat are also received on high, as vaulted and valued as the fruits inside. More precious than silver, the effort-soaked baskets are received as integral to the gift. 

 So the next time you feel like you have little to offer, nothing to share, be reminded that the basket itself is essential to the offering. Build yourself well, accept your own emptiness, and the fruits will follow. 

The Reed Basket

 I have spent my days 
 slicing reeds
 working words like palm trees
 into baskets
 with Sinai''s subtle sand

I have woven wicker works
 On the warp of this holy land
 like matted nest of bird
 built of stick & string
 I have gathered
 goods together
 fit for first fruit offerings

 Sewn foundations
 of straw, stalk, sinew and hay
 awkward armfulls are my hours
 empty archways are my days 

I''ve worked 
 cleaning open windows
 For only emptiness receives
 And for the sake of offering
 I weave 

I weave a basket 
 a braided tevah
  with bitumen blackened brow
 having drawn myself from river 
 having planted self with plow

I have toiled to build this vessel
 A basket firm for future fruits
 I’ve wed a fertile womb
 I’ve cleared a field
 but set no root

 And every newborn morning 
 I’ve born the burden of one more stitch
 To beautify this basket 
 - To offer it -

And I proclaim
 With my pain-upraised
 & paltry hands
 I have offered all that I could reap 
 From this steep God-given land 

 I have brought my first of fruits…
 An empty basket in my hands. 

 I am empty as an echo
 Resounding cavernous and clear
 I - an open basket 
 May my offering draw me near

To but build a basket
 a vassal vessel to the King
 to labor long to weave it
 and all along - to sing

 That the holiness of the vessel
 Far exceeds that which rests inside
 This Land has made me build myself
 The fruits, I trust, 
 will grow in time

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