Parshat Ki Tavo begins with a detailed description of the Mitzvah of Bikurim. The Mishnayot tell us how a farmer would tie a ribbon on the first sprouting crops. When the crops were ready, he would bring a small amount to the Kohen and make a special presentation and pronouncement. This ritual concludes with the sentence, “You shall be glad with all the goodness that Hashem has given you…” (26:11).
Such a beautiful and joyous ritual for a simple, non-expensive presentation! When one has to give Ma’aser, one-tenth of one’s crop, by contrast, there is no such ritual, just pay-up!
A reason for this difference might reflect the very essence of Torah. The Torah wants us to participate in every Mitzvah. Torah commandments are not spectator events. Ma’aser is just paying a debt to a Levi or poor person. Bikurim is the act of appreciation of all that one owns. My father, zt”l, would always lamentthe fact that so many Jews die of heart-attacks. His un-medical view 40 years ago was that when Jews substitute a good heart instead of being a Jew, there is an excessive load place on the heart. “Do you keep Shabbat?” “No, but I have a good Jewish heart.” “Do you keep Kashrut? Put on Tefillin?” “No, but I wear a Star-of-David pin.” This is an excessive amount of non-participatory Judaism. Judaism requires an act of Bikurim, love, and a sensitive mind to realize that all that we have, all that we are, and everything that we can hope for is only granted by the grace of Hashem.