The Bikkurim ritual, the offering of the first fruits of the yearly harvest, began starting on Shavuot. This ritual is a classic expression of gratitude. It takes place as the farmer begins to collect the first fruit from the fields and trees, after months of toil and investment, waiting for the hard work to, literally, “bear fruit”. The Torah commands that precisely at this moment, when one sees the fruits of their labor, one must pause, take note and acknowledge the gift they were given.

Bikkurim: A Ritual of Gratitude

The Bikkurim ritual is described in the following text from the Torah and then further detailed in the text from the Mishnah . 

As you read, pay attention to the following themes: time, place, identity, ritual and society. 

וְהָיָה, כִּי-תָבוֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה; וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בָּהּ. 
וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית כָּל-פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר תָּבִיא מֵאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ--וְשַׂמְתָּ בַטֶּנֶא; וְהָלַכְתָּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם. וּבָאתָ, אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן, אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה, בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם; וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו, הִגַּדְתִּי הַיּוֹם לַה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, כִּי-בָאתִי אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה' לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ לָתֶת לָנוּ.  וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן הַטֶּנֶא, מִיָּדֶךָ; וְהִנִּיחוֹ--לִפְנֵי, מִזְבַּח ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ. 
וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב. וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה. וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל-ה' אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע ה' אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ, וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת-לַחֲצֵנוּ.  וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ ה' , מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל--וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים. וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ. וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, ה'; וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ. 
וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל-הַטּוֹב, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ--וּלְבֵיתֶךָ:  אַתָּה, וְהַלֵּוִי, וְהַגֵּר, אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבֶּךָ.

 

-דברים כ"ו, א'-י"א

When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it, you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name.

You shall go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us.”

The priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.

You shall then recite as follows before the Lord your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation.

The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us.

We cried to the Lord , the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.

The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents.

He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me.” 

You shall leave it before the Lord your God and bow low before the Lord your God.

And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you and your household.

-Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

כֵּיצַד מַעֲלִין אֶת הַבִּכּוּרִים?... הַקְּרוֹבִים מְבִיאִים הַתְּאֵנִים וְהָעֲנָבִים, וְהָרְחוֹקִים מְבִיאִים גְּרוֹגָרוֹת וְצִמּוּקִים. וְהַשּׁוֹר הוֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם, וְקַרְנָיו מְצֻפּוֹת זָהָב, וַעֲטֶרֶת שֶׁל זַיִת בְּרֹאשׁוֹ. הֶחָלִיל מַכֶּה לִפְנֵיהֶם, עַד שֶׁמַּגִּיעִים קָרוֹב לִירוּשָׁלָיִם. הִגִּיעוּ קָרוֹב לִירוּשָׁלַיִם, שָׁלְחוּ לִפְנֵיהֶם, וְעִטְּרוּ אֶת בִּכּוּרֵיהֶם. הַפַּחוֹת, הַסְּגָנִים וְהַגִּזְבָּרִים יוֹצְאִים לִקְרָאתָם... וְכָל בַּעֲלֵי אֻמָּנִיּוֹת שֶׁבִּירוּשָׁלַיִם עוֹמְדִים לִפְנֵיהֶם וְשׁוֹאֲלִין בִּשְׁלוֹמָם, אַחֵינוּ אַנְשֵׁי הַמָּקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי, בָּאתֶם לְשָׁלוֹם:
הֶחָלִיל מַכֶּה לִפְנֵיהֶם עַד שֶׁמַּגִּיעִין לְהַר הַבָּיִת...
עוֹדֵהוּ הַסַּל עַל כְּתֵפוֹ, קוֹרֵא מֵהִגַּדְתִּי הַיּוֹם לַה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ (דברים כו), עַד שֶׁגּוֹמֵר כָּל הַפָּרָשָׁה. 

-משנה ביכורים, פרק ג, ב-ו

How do they bring the Bikkurim up [to Jerusalem]? .... Those who were close would bring dates and grapes and the far ones would bring dried figs and raisins. A bull would go before them and its horns would be plated with gold and it would have an olive wreath around its head. The flute would play before them until they got close to Jerusalem… The overseers and the officers and the treasurers would go out to greet them; in accordance with the stature of those coming in would they go out. All the artisans of Jerusalem would stand before them and greet them, "Our brothers from so-and-so, come in peace!" The flute would continue playing before them until they arrived at the Temple Mount… While the basket was still on his shoulder he recites from: "I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us” (Deuteronomy 26:3) until he completes the passage.

-Mishnah Bikkurim 3:2-6.

 

Guiding Questions:

  • When and where does this ritual take place? 

  • What is the content of the proclamation that is said when bringing the fruits to the temple? 

  • What, in your opinion, is the connection between the proclamation and the ritual and what function does it serve? 

  • Note the closing verse of the text in Deuteronomy. What is the result of this ritual and who should be included in it?

Some commentaries see the main goal of this ritual as a way to instill and develop a sense of gratitude and even go as far as to say that the world was created for this commandment:

"ואמרת אליו": שאינך כפוי טובה.

 

-ספרי דברים רצ״ט:א׳

“And say unto him”- that you are not ungrateful. 

 

-Sifrei Devarim 299:1

אמנם בשום לב אל מה שהגדילו רבותינו ז"ל בבראשית רבה (א ו) התמיהא הזאת, נבא עד תכונתה, באומרם בראשית ברא כו' בשביל מצות בכורים שנאמר בה ראשית בכורי אדמתך ברא אלהים את השמים כו', כי הלא יפלא מה גדלה המצוה הזאת שעליה לבדה נברא העולם
ועל כן צוה יתברך עשות את כל הכבוד האמור במשנה, למען יורו כי אינם כפוי טובה רק מכירים כי הכל שלו יתברך. ומביאים ראשית כל פרי דרך כבוד, כי זה כל מה שיבקש הוא יתברך על כל מה שברא. כי הלא כל העולם אשר ברא בעבור האדם לא היה כי אם למען יחזיק לו טובה ויהללנו ולא יהיה כפוי טובה, ובזה תלוי קיום כל התורה. 

 

-פירוש אלשיך על התורה, דברים כ"ו, א'

We should pay attention to what our Rabbis, may their memory be blessed, taught (in Bereshit Raba 1:6), this wonderous thing that they said that the world was created for the commandment of Bikkurim (bringing of the first fruit), since in both the word “reishit”- beginning- appears. What a wonder it is how crucial this commandment is, that for it alone, the world was created…
And this is the reason that the Blessed be He commanded all of the honor and detail described in the Mishnah, to teach them not to be ungrateful, but rather recognizing that it all comes from God. And they bring the first fruits as a way of respect, this is all that God requested in return for everything He created. For the entire world was created for humans, but for man to be appreciative of the good and that he praises Him and not be ungrateful, and on this, the existence of the entire Torah is dependent. 

-Alshech commentary on Deuteronomy 26:1

 

Now that there is no longer a temple, the Bikkurim ritual, as described above, no longer takes place. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out one difference between the ritual of Bikkurim and other Jewish expressions of gratitude is specifically the fact that it is a ritual. It is a commitment that leads to action. It does not stay in the realm of words or emotion. 
 What contemporary ritual could you design and take upon yourself, to embody the meaning and values of the original ritual of Bikkurim?