This week’s Parashah begins by mentioning the Mitzvot of Bikkurim, the offering of the first fruits, and Mikra Bikkurim, the declaration made upon them. It is generally accepted among the Mefarshim that the main reason for this Mitzvah is to recognize God’s ownership over everything, including the fruits of our own labor.
At first glance, this Mitzvah seems to be fairly identical to the Mitzvah of Aliyah LeRegel. Both require a person to go to the Makom HaMikdash and to bring Korbanot of some sort, and both have an element of Simchah to them. However, the nature of these two Dinim of Simchah seem to manifest themselves in different ways. With regard to Aliyah LeRegel, the Simchah aspect seems to be due to the nature of the day as a day of Yom Tov. However, in the case of Bikkurim, this cannot be so, due to the fact that the bringing of Bikkurim is not limited to specific, individual days. It is true that Mikra Bikkurim may only be recited between Shavu’ot and Sukkot due to the fact that it is considered a “Zeman Simchah”, “Time of happiness,” but this is not solely because of the inherent Simchah of the time period; rather, as explained by the Bartenura on the Mishnah, it is because people harvest their produce during that time, creating a sensation of Simchah.
This point is brought out fully by the fact that one can still bring Bikkurim from Sukkot until Chanukah, albeit without Mikra Bikkurim. We see from here that for the actual Mitzvah of Hava’at Bikkurim, which requires Simchah, the Simchah is not generated by the time period itself.
However, the fact that the Simchah does not come from the time begs the question of its true source, and so Rav Moshe Feinstein asks: where, exactly, is this Simchah coming from? If it is from the farmer bringing Bikkurim, then how can there be Simchah when the fruits are being taken away from the farmer? If the Kohein is the source of the Simchah that the Pasuk is requiring, how can he possibly become happy at this procedure? He never tilled the land, he never painstakingly planted each sapling, and he never watered, weeded, pruned, and nourished the tree! How can he possibly feel any joy at receiving its fruits if he did not work over it? Perhaps the Kohein has Simcha from receiving free fruits. But fruit is not hard to come by, and furthermore, saving a quarter or two would hardly be something to warrant an obligation of Simchah. Where, then, does this happiness come from?
Rav Moshe gives an answer which contains a tremendous principle. As we said before, the entire reason for Bikkurim is to know that Hashem is the true owner of everything, and that the fruits which one ‘earned’ are, in fact, gifts from Hashem. When the Torah commands the farmer to have Simchah, it is so that he will feel the Simchah of Hashem; the truly happy party is HaKadosh Baruch Hu himself.
Thus, the true recipient of the Bikkurim, who is the true Ba’al Simchah, is Hashem; the Kohein only has access to these fruits as the Torah’s reward for his service. In the same vein, explains Rav Moshe, the Mikra Bikkurim is a recollection of all of the trials of Klal Yisrael: in order to dispel the notion that Hashem ‘owes’ us because of our righteousness, we verbalize (and thereby internalize) that all of these events and Nissim that HaKadosh Baruch Hu did for us are a Tovah that we are obligated to thank him for.