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Bikkurim: An Exercise in Loving the Land

Written by Rabbi Nadel, 11/6/2019

 Bikkurim: An Exercise in Loving the Land

The mitzvah of Bikkurim is accompanied by a unique verbal declaration. The Jewish farmer, offering his ‘First Fruits,’ begins with an historical account of the People of Israel culminating with their entrance into a land “flowing with milk and honey.” He expresses his gratitude for being able to bring the first fruits of the Land that Hashem has given him. According to the Rambam, this declaration is a separate mitzvah (Hilchot Bikkurim 3:10). 

But why does the Torah require the farmer to make a special verbal declaration when bringing his Bikkurim? We don’t find that other priestly gifts are accompanied by a verbal declaration.

Beyond just expressing his gratitude to Hashem, the farmer articulates a love for the Land of Israel. 

And according to the Ari HaKadosh, the mitzvah of Bikkurim serves as a Tikkun, or rectification, of the Sin of the Spies. 

The Spies, who spoke ill of the land,  intended to instil fear in the Jewish People with the very fruit of the Land! The Torah relates that the Spies, “…cut from there a vine with one cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole, by two, and of the pomegranates and of the figs” (Bamidbar 13:23). Rashi comments that they returned with the large fruit, “with the intent to spread slander, ‘Just as the fruit is unusual, so are its people unusual.’” 

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 3:1) describes how one designates his ‘First Fruits’: “How do we separate Bikkurim? When a man descends into his field and sees figs ripening, a cluster [of grapes] ripening, or a pomegranate ripening, he ties a string to it and says, ‘These are Bikkurim’…” It is curious that the Mishnah specifies only figs, grapes and pomegranates, while all of the ‘Seven Species’ must to be separated as Bikkurim. Rav Menachem Ziemba hy"d, one of the great Torah giants of pre-war Europe, explained that these three fruits are precisely the very fruits that the Spies brought back with them from the Land: Figs, grapes, and pomegranates. By mentioning only these three, the Mishnah is alluding to the fact that the mitzvah of Bikkurim is a Tikkun for the Sin of the Spies (Chidushei HaGaon Rav Menachem Ziemba, p. 117). 

The Spies “despised the desirable Land” (Tehilim 106:24). By speaking ill of the Land of Israel, they sinned with their faculty of speech. The mitzvah of Bikkurim serves a rectification for the Sin of the Spies because it requires of us to see the good in the Land, and express our love for it. And that is precisely why the Mitzvah of Bikkurim is accompanied by a verbal declaration. It requires us to to express our thanks to Hashem verbally. It’s not enough to just feel a sense of gratitude, it has to be articulated.

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