Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dedicating the First and Best to Hashem

Rebbetzin is ready with her fruits!
Parashat Ki Tavo always moves me with its descriptions of love of the Land. I also can’t wait till the time – may it be soon – when I will be able to bring up the first fruits of my garden for a Temple offering! As you will read in the description below, the mitzvah of the First Fruit Offering is so beautiful decorated with gold, and accompanied by music. Yet, as much as I look forward, I’m sure it won’t be easy. While it is relatively easy to share some of our extras that we anyway don’t need, it is much much harder to give away the first and the best, which we may be embarrassed to admit that we really prefer to keep for ourselves. This is why the mitzvah of the First Fruit Offering is so important, because it teaches us to serve Hashem with our guts, and turn our selfishness into generosity.

Netivot Shalom explains that the entire world was created for the sake of the mitzvah of Bikurim as it states “In the beginning Hashem created…,”[1] and it states, “Bring the beginning of the first fruits of your earth to the house of Hashem your G-d”.[2] He further asks, “What is so important about the mitzvah of Bikurim that the whole world is created for its sake?”[3] The key to discovering the importance of the mitzvah of Bikurim is Hashem’s desire to make a dwelling place below,[4] in the physical world where the shells and the yetzer hara reigns. It is most precious to Hashem, when we serve Him with our guts, from our place of physical desire. For this purpose He created the entire world. The meditation below gives you practical tips about how to keep the mitzvah of Bikurim in our time.

Shana Tovah U’Metukah!
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!
With Blessings of the Torah & the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Ki Tavo - "Believe in Your Hidden Powers and Spiritual Grandeur!"

Parashat Ki Tavo
Devarim 26:1 - 29:8
The Mitzvah of Bikurim in our Days – 
Dedicating the First and Best to Hashem  
The Glorious First Fruit Offerings During Temple Times
The mitzvah of the First Fruits Offerings (Bikurim) is the beginning and center-piece of Parashat KiTavo: “You shall bring the First-Fruits of your Land to the House of Hashem your G-d…”[5] During Temple times, the Jewish farmers would bring the first and the best of their crops as a donation to the Kohanim, who didn’t have their own land. “Those who lived near Jerusalem would bring figs and grapes (because they would not be spoiled by a short journey); those who lived far from Jerusalem would bring dried figs and raisins. An ox went before them with its horns overlaid with gold, and a crown of olive leaves upon its head. The flute was played before them until they approached Jerusalem. When they came close to Jerusalem, they sent messengers before them, and they would decorate their First-Fruits…”[6] “The flute was played before them until they reached the Temple Mount. Once they reached the Temple Mount, even Agrippas the King would carry a basket on his shoulder and go in as far as the Azarah (Temple courtyard). Once they reached the Azarah, the Levites would sing, ‘I will praise You, O G-d, for You have raised me up, and You have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me!’[7] Immediately following the holiday of Shavuot, the farmers would rejoice by dedicating the beginning of their fruit harvest to Hashem.”[8]

Dedicating my Greatest Desire to Hashem – through the First Fruit Offering
When a person goes down to his field and sees a fig that has ripened, he ties a piece of straw around it and declares: ‘this is Bikurim ’”[9] The entire year, we weeded, composted, watered, pruned and removed worms from our fruit trees. When we finally experience the fruits of our hard labor, seeing our first fig ripening, this is so exciting, special and desirable, that we just want to gobble up this delicious fruit then and there. Such desire is described by the prophet as follows: “as the first-ripe fig before the summer, which when one looks upon it, while it is yet in his hand, he eats it up.”[10] Now as always, the week of Parashat Kitavo is the peak of the fig season. Oh these figs are so deliciously sweet, that I’m embarrassed to admit, but sometimes I wake up to just run down to my garden and enjoy. However, I look forward to the time B”H soon when I will have to restrain my desire to indulge in all our hard work the entire year, and instead tie a string around this most precious fig, to dedicate my greatest desire to Hashem, for the mitzvah of Bikurim!

Entering the Temple with our Fruit-basket
“It shall be, when you enter the Land which Hashem your G-d is giving you for an inheritance, and you possess it and begin to set up permanent residence in it. Then you shall take all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that Hashem your G-d is giving you; you shall put it into a basket, and you shall go to the place which Hashem your G-d will choose as a residence for His Divine Name.”[11] When entering the Temple with our fruit-basket, facing the Kohen, we will recite a declaration of gratitude to Hashem for bestowing His blessings upon Eretz Yisrael!

Fulfilling the Mitzvah of Bikurim in our Days
Knowing that the holy Torah is eternal; as we learn from the Thirteen Principles of Belief: “This Torah will never be exchanged;”[12] then, how do we fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim today when we have neither a worshipping Kohen, nor a Temple, or an altar? Even today we can fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim by dedicating the beginning of every matter to Hashem. The body follows the head. The Netivot Shalom gives an example of why the beginning of everything is so important. If we write down the number zero, no matter how many zeros we add to this first zero, the entire number will still have no value. However, if we only add a number one in the beginning, then each and every zero adds to the total number.[13] Therefore, by dedicating the first to Hashem, we can illuminate and elevate our entire existence.[14]

Consecrating the First and Best of Everything to Hashem
The first of everything is always the most exciting. Therefore, the purpose of the First Fruit Offering is for every Jew to give over that which is most beloved and precious for himself to Hashem. For example, the first-born child was originally dedicated to Temple service,[15] the first of the chalah offering,[16] and so the first born kosher animal.[17] Also today, we are supposed to dedicate the beginning of every day – when we are full of energy and excitement – to Hashem through prayer, before beginning our day with any other activities. While anticipating the return of Temple times, I like to practice the First Fruit Offering, by thanking Hashem profusely for the produce and sharing my shiny fruits with Rabbis, teachers and students alike. I also try to sanctify the beginning of my day for holiness, thanksgiving and prayer.

This meditation is not really a meditation, but more of a meditative practice to be incorporated in your daily life routine. It gives you guidelines of how to continuously dedicate the first and the best to Hashem.

1. When you awake in the morning – as soon as you open your eyes, thank Hashem for restoring your soul. Try to infuse your Modeh Ani prayer with the excitement and thankfulness to Hashem for this new day. Add your personal thankful prayer as you face Hashem upon rising from your bed.

2. Dedicate your first bite of food in the morning to Hashem, by taking a deep breath and then reciting the following: “For the sake of the unity of the Holy One with His Shechinah, I do not eat only for the sake of giving pleasure for my body, G-d forbid, but for the sake of maintaining my body healthy and strong to be able to serve Hashem.”[18] The Biala Rebbe[19] teaches that if we make this conscious intention before our meal, then even if in the middle we get distracted and start eating for selfish pleasures, still because we had a pure intent to begin with, our original objective is never nullified, and our entire eating goes after our original intention at the beginning of the meal.

3. When you buy something new save it to use first time for Shabbat or for the upcoming holiday, to rejoice with it for the sake of Hashem. This applies both to a new fruit, a new interesting kind of food, or a new garment.

4. When you go shopping, as you are waiting on line before finalizing your purchase recite:
For the sake of the unity of the Holy One with His Shechinah, may everything I buy be vessels for performing mitzvoth!" Whenever possible try to buy something really special as a gift to make someone else happy.

5. When you pick your fruits, flowers, herbs, or veggies, try to give some of your nicest produce to a person in need.

6. Before beginning your exercise routine take a deep breath and recite “For the sake of the unity of the Holy One with His Shechinah, I exercise in order to maintain my body healthy and strong for the sake of serving Hashem.”

7. When you go to sleep, before reciting the bedtime Shema, ask Hashem that your sleep will be deep and sound to give you strength to awake excited to serve Him first thing in the morning!

The Biala Rebbe explains based on his father’s teachings the Divrei Bina that in every matter a person needs to make a conscious effort that its beginning should be for the sake of heaven, for everything goes after the beginning. In heaven they calculate mainly the beginning of the thoughts of a person, whether through fulfilling the Torah and the Mitzvot, or whether through physical matters, the beginning of intention needs to be for Hashem. When we have pure intentions in our every deed, to dedicate its beginning to Hashem, we fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim even more than during Temple times![20]

[1] Bereishit 1:1.
[2] Shemot 23:19, Bereishit Rabah 1:4.
[3] Netivot Shalom, Parashat Kitavo, page 151.
[4] Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat B’chukotai 3.
[5] Shemot 23:19.
[6] Mishnah Bikurim, Chapter 3,Mishnah 3.
[7] Tehillim 30:2.
[8] Mishnah Bikurim, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4.
[9] Mishna Bikurim Chapter 3, Mishnah 1.
[10] Yesha’yahu 28:4.
[11] Devarim 26:1-2.
[12] Rambam, the Thirteen Principles of Emunah, Principle 9.
[13] Netivot Shalom, Parashat Kitavo, page 157
[14] Chelkat Yehoshua, Articles, p. 19.
[15] Shemot 13:2
[16] Bamidbar 15:20.
[17] Devarim 18:4.
[18] Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, The Book of the Conduct of the Righteous.
[19] Rabbi Ben Tzion Rabbinowitz from Switzerland, Shelita.
[20] Rabbi Ben Tzion Rabinowitz, Shulchan Adam Mekaper, A Person’s Table Atones, Chapter 5.

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