After the Holy Land was conquered, farmers were obligated to bring Bikurim,
the first ripened fruits, to the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple). Each farmer
presented his basket of produce to the Kohen (priest) with a narrative that
declared gratitude to G-d for His eternal role as the Guide of Jewish
History. The pronouncement to the Kohen, spelled out in the Torah's text,
started with a preamble, "I declare today to the L-rd, your G-d, that I have
come to the Land that the L-rd swore to our forefathers to give us"
(Devarim/Deuteronomy 26:3), after which the Kohen took the fruit and the
narrative continued relating G-d's kindnesses throughout the centuries.
The glaring question inherent in the mandated text is that it was used year
after year for centuries. Generations after the Children of Israel moved
into the Land of Israel, they were still saying, "I declare today...that I
have COME to the land..." Every Divine word of the Torah's text is
deliberately included. How do we reconcile that the great grandchildren of
the original wilderness wanderers stated that they just came to the land?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986; Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Mesivtha Tifereth
Jerusalem in New York City; the leading Halachic/Jewish legal decisor and
foremost leader of Torah Jewry of his time) explains that most places in the
world are simply places to live. Eretz Yisrael is the exception; its
holiness transforms its inhabitants and enables them to achieve a
completeness of character unattainable in other environments. This personal
perfection relates to our physical world with the inculcation of the truth
that G-d's dominion is as absolute in the material realm as it is in the
When the farmer chooses to ACT and gives "back" his precious first fruits -
which to anyone else looks like any other grapes, figs or dates, but to him
contain the significance of months of toil and great personal sacrifice and
investment - to the Kohen, the messenger of G-d, he fulfills the purpose of
Jewish life in the Holy Land. In G-d's eyes, the farmer's actions which
concretize the axiom that G-d is the Master of the physical world - that all
of the bounty is really a gift from Above and not a "product" of our
actions - satisfy the farmer's own purpose for being in the Holy Land. Thus,
the farmer unequivocally declares that he HIMSELF has "come to the Land that
the L-rd swore...to give us," in that his own deeds catapulted him to a
higher, more complete spiritual plane.
The decision of the Sages to have this parsha read in these weeks is no
coincidence. The Yomim Noraim (Days of Awe/High Holydays) are around the
corner. We spend these waning days of the last Jewish month of Elul
contemplating our relationship with our Creator, preparing for Rosh
HaShannah, trying again to genuinely feel that He is our Father and our
King. Without the Bais HaMikdash in Jerusalem, this mitzvah (Divine
commandment) of Bikurim is not available to us. But there are countless
mitzvah opportunities that G-d hands us almost every moment of every day.
Chessed (acts of kindness), prayer and Torah study opportunities surround
us. (Tzedaka [charity] is essential, but there must be more...the "People of
the Book" cannot simply become "The People of the Checkbook"!) Our Jewish
community is filled with chances to ACT, to DO something Jewish which
concretizes our connection to G-d. Judaism has never been a spectator sport.
When we give of our valued assets - our money, our time, our selves - to
foster our relationships with our spouse, children and friends, we do not
call it a "sacrifice"; it is an "investment". The mitzvah of Bikurim and the
High Holydays are our call to action to invest in our relationship with G-d.