First is the Worst? by Leo Metzger


In the first topic of Parashat Ki Tavo, the Torah describes the Mitzvah of Bikurim, first fruits that were brought up to Yerushalayim, and what would subsequently occur. A farmer would set aside the best of the first fruits he had grown, and would place them in a basket. He would take only fruits of the seven special species: Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. The farmer would then bring the fruit to a Kohein in the Beit HaMikdash and recite a passage, and the Kohein would take the basket from him and place it by the Mizbei'ach. Following this, the farmer would briefly recap the history of Bnei Yisrael, from when they went down to Mitzrayim until Hashem took them into Eretz Yisrael. Finally, he would bow down.

The first time the Torah mentions this Mitzvah is in Sefer Shemot (23:19). There, the Torah commands that you should take "Reishit Bikurei Admatecha," "The choicest of your first fruits," to Yerushalayim. Why does the Torah add this different language there?

There is a very fitting message to take from this word, especially at the beginning of both the school year and the Hebrew calendar year. The double qualification of “Reishit Bikurei” teaches us that the “Reishit” automatically are “Bikurim;” the quality that the fruits were the first produces makes them the most desirable to Hashem. The same applies for us, in that whenever we start something new, we should make sure that it always is started in a positive light. It doesn’t matter if that new thing is beginning a new school, a new extracurricular activity, or just trying to change our attitude towards life a bit, we should always go into it with a positive attitude, feeling from the start that it will turn out well and with the resolve to do everything in your power to do it right.

But there is another important aspect to consider when learning about the Mitzvah of bringing the first fruits to Yerushalayim. In Masechet Bikurim (3:7), the Tana'im deal with the issue of not embarrassing an uneducated farmer who cannot read the passage normally recited at the bringing of the Bikurim. The Mishnah presents the options: They could tell the man what to say word by word, which would embarrass him, or they could have the Kohein say it for him, which would also embarrass him. The Tana'im's solution to this pressing yet delicate issue was that the Kohein would say the passages for everyone who brought his first fruits, whether or not the person was illiterate. Thus, no one would have any idea as to who was literate and who was not. As a result of this, the illiterate farmers would leave the Beit HaMikdash with their pride intact, and feeling that not only their fruits, but they themselves were the choicest for Hashem. Furthermore, an uneducated farmer easily may have been anxious and nervous while going to bring his Bikurim, worried that he would be exposed as a lower class than others. But since no single person was responsible to show if he was knowledgeable or not, that same farmer could leave with a positive attitude, and return the next year with optimism as well.

“To Err is Human; To Forgive, Divine” by Rabbi Josh Kahn

Punishment and Prayer by Nachum Fisch