The festival of Shavuot is also called the Day of Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, the day on which Am Yisrael stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and heard the Ten Commandments – the day on which the nation made a covenant with God and willingly and lovingly received the Torah.
But it is also called the Day of Bikkurim, first fruits. This is because when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the nation would bring their first fruits to Jerusalem from Shavuot on.
The commandment of bringing the first fruits is described at length in the Mishna: “A man goes down into his field, he sees a fig that ripened, or a cluster of grapes that ripened, or a pomegranate that ripened. He ties a reed-rope around it and says: ‘Let these be bikkurim.’ All [the inhabitants of] the cities assembled in the city... And the ox with horns bedecked with gold and with an olive-crown on its head led the way.
The flute was played before them...
and when they arrived close to Jerusalem... the governors and chiefs and treasurers [of the Temple] went out to meet them... All the skilled artisans of Jerusalem would stand up before them and greet them: ‘Brethren, men of such and such a place, we are delighted to welcome you’... Even the king would take the basket and place it on his shoulder and walk as far as the Temple court.”
(Mishna, Tractate Bikkurim 3, 1-4) This vivid and colorful description is unique to the offering of the first fruits. In what way is this commandment so unique that the entire capital city ceases to work and goes out to welcome those bringing the first fruits? All of us remember the wonderful experience of receiving our first paycheck; the sweet taste of the first profit. It was a wonderful feeling to earn payment for hard work and effort; no longer charity, but profit earned.
But a cloud shadows this experience.
Without noticing it, when you earned your first paycheck, you made a pact between yourself and the money. It was then that the race to accumulate money began. At that moment, you learned the immense power of money, its mysterious value that tugs at all our hearts.
The farmer goes out to his fields after months of effort, after long days of sweat and hard work, of plowing and seeding, weeding and safeguarding, and sees the first fruit buds sprouting on the tree. His heart expands with a sense of great satisfaction – a feeling he can become addicted to and then bound to in the search for pride of having property and possessions.
And then, he ties a thin rope around the delicate bud. He knowingly relinquishes the new fig, the first cluster of grapes. But this loss is actually a profit that compares to none, he acquires control over greed and lust for possessions. He remains free and liberated and not enslaved to money.
He brings these first fruits to Jerusalem in a glorious parade, accompanied by music. When he is welcomed by the people of Jerusalem, he knows and internalizes: I did it! I will place this first fruit in a basket and place it on my shoulder and declare: The land is not mine, the property is not mine; they are the Lord’s, who graciously gave me the land and its fruit! And thus, by renouncing possessiveness and the joy of ownership, a proper and healthy society is formed, a society in which the first paycheck does not become a symbol for chasing and accumulating money, but a symbol of relinquishment, gratitude and humility.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!