And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God: ‘A wandering Aramean was
my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and
he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt
ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried unto
the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our
affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.
And the Lord brought us
forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with
great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. And He hath brought us
into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and
honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which
Thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it down before the Lord thy God,
and worship before the Lord thy God. (Deuteronomy 26, 5-10)
The commandment of
Bikkurim (First Fruits) which we read about in this week’s Torah portion is a
unique commandment which provides us with a deep and historical perspective on
the strong connection between the nation of Israel and its land – Am Yisrael and
The Talmud describes how this commandment was fulfilled
during the days when the Temple stood: The First Fruits growing on the tree were
marked by the farmers immediately as they started to grow, and during the
harvest, they would be placed in a separate basket.
Groups of farmers
would ascend to Jerusalem, to the Temple, in a colorful and joyful procession.
When they reached the city, residents would greet them and host them, and thus,
in this festive atmosphere, they would ascend the Temple Mount and present the
Bikkurim to the priests serving at the Temple.
But fulfillment of the
commandment did not end with this.
As the Bikkurim were presented, each
person would make an interesting declaration which teaches us about the content
and significance of this mitzva.
The declaration in Deuteronomy 26, 5-10
is a short overview of the Jewish nation’s history before its entrance to the
Land of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
It begins with a description of
Lavan the Aramean who conspires against Ya’acov Avinu and tries to kill him. The
description continues with the descent to Egypt and the blessed proliferation
alongside the “hard bondage.”
After this, the presenter of the Bikkurim
describes turning to God because of the slavery in Egypt, God’s redemption in
the Exodus from Egypt through miracles and “a mighty hand, and with an
outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs,” and the entrance
into Eretz Yisrael – the good land “flowing with milk and
Finally, the Jew declares festively, “I have brought the first of
the fruit of the land, which Thou, O Lord, hast given me.”
overview the man identifies himself as part of the nation’s chain of
generations. He presents the historical events in the first person, as though
they had occurred to him, and he ties the land – which he nurtures – to the
historical chain of wondrous events which shaped the nation from its inception
until it settled in serenity and independence in its land.
farmer sees his trees abounding with ripe fruit, his heart fills with joy. His
sense of stability and security increases. The successful harvest guarantees him
income, at least for the next year. There is no more appropriate time than this
to shape and solidify his own outlook on the connection between himself and the
good land – that on which he lives and from which he sustains
Man can see himself through a narrow perspective, that which
surveys the world from the day of his birth to the day of his death, and be
pleased about this good position. But he can also widen and deepen his
perspective and see himself as an inseparable part of the ancient history of a
nation who was in exile, suffered, was liberated and settled in its
This kind of outlook provides a power that cannot be felt when he
narrows his outlook to the decades of his life. The connection of the man to the
land is empowered when he sees each fruit growing on the tree as the
continuation of the nation’s development, the expression of the redemption we
began when we left Egypt and came to the Land of Israel.
is this perspective for us! The Jewish nation, which returned to Eretz Yisrael
after thousands of years of exile, made the desert bloom, built cities, and
planted strong roots.
We can see this amazing fact – the return of Am
Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael – as a phenomenon several decades old.
correct perspective would be that our existence on our land is the historical
continuation of the narrative described by the presenter of the First Fruits to
Each and every one of us is a link in the chain of this
ancient nation with a wondrous history: The nation that was in Egypt, was
liberated, settled in the land, and built in it the Temple, was exiled, and came
back to it again to build the Second Temple. And then again endured a long and
difficult exile, and again returned to its land and built it with dedication and
hard work, believing and hoping that the day will come and Gd will rule the
entire land, and the entire world will recognize our historic rights to the land
and the Divine promise given to our nation’s forefather – Avraham Avinu – “To
your offspring I will give this land”! The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall
and Holy Sites.