Ki Tavo: Be Happy

The essence of Bikkurim.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
The Slonimer Rebbe asks several questions about parshat Ki Tavo and its treatment of bikkurim, the first fruits: Why is simcha, happiness, stressed here and nowhere else regarding any other mitzvah (chap. 26, verse 11: "and rejoice with all the good that the Lord has given you")? And why here is there stress on the lessons of Jacob's battles with Lavan, his father-in-law ("the Aramean who tried to exterminate my father," verse 5), unlike the end of last week's parsha, which stresses our battle to the end of time with Amalek, grandson of Eisav, Jacob's brother? And why does the Mishnah say that Bikkurim are brought with great fanfare, with whole populations leaving their cities to greet and honor the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem with their fruits, when this is not seen with the giving of tithes (Maaser) and Terumah, which is given by individuals to individuals?

The answer to the question about happiness is to be found in the issue of Lavan. "And Lavan raised his voice [vayaan, the same verb used by the Jew in his Bikkurim declaration, the antithesis to Lavan's cry] and answered Jacob: The girls are my daughters, and the boys are my sons, and the flocks are my flocks; and all you see are
The very word "simcha" is related to the root tz'm'ch, which means "growth".
mine." (Breishit 31:43) This is the famous cry: kochi v'otzem yadi asa li et hachayil hazeh with which Moshe rebuked the people earlier (Devarim 8:17): "Don't say that it's my strength and my might that acquired all these properties."

Eisav/Amalek wage their war against God and His Torah and His people; but Lavan's fight is purely materialistic. And this is the essence of Bikkurim - to take the adamah (26:2), the basest elements of existence, and raise them up to the Almighty. At the very moment when the desire to eat of the first fruits of man's labor burns in his heart, to instead raise them to God, in His Temple, in a full consciousness of this declaration of Jewish history - that is the Jew's greatest kiddush Shem Shamayim, glorification of the name of God.

And his greatest happiness. The Slonimer relates that this whole process of the Bikkurim, the un-Lavan-like approach to the material world, brings happiness to the Jew and to God. In fact, the Rebbe connects the modern epidemic of depression to the rampant spread of overindulgence in eating and sexuality (although for explanation of the latter, I refer the reader to Tzvi Fishman's blog). He quotes the Rebbe of Ruzhin as saying that this week's parsha and parshat Eikev (another parsha that deals with eating and the blessings upon food) begin with the word v'hayah (Devarim 7:12 and 26:1), which has the same letters as the first letters in the verse yismchu hashamayim v'tagel ha'aretz (the first letters here spell the Tetragrammaton), "may the heavens be happy and the earth rejoice" - except that the v-h of the Tetragrammaton are reversed in v'hayah. This is to show that the stress with Bikkurim is on the earthly (v'tagel ha'aretz) as it is raised up to the heavenly.

Furthermore, happiness is a direct result of maturation, of leaving the Lavan, infantile "it's all mine" mindset. Rabbi Shimshon R. Hirsch says that the very word simcha is related to the root tz'm'ch, which means "growth".

When I was a young father, I planted a patch of strawberries and vegetables with my four-year-old daughter Talya. The next year, as we sat on the ground (adamah) munching strawberries, I decided to turn philosophical.

Pointing upward, I asked: "Who made the sky, Tali?"

"God did, Abba."

"And who made the sun?"

"God did."

"And the clouds?"


And now, I thought, she'd make the Bikkurim declaration: "And who made the strawberries?"

"We did, Abba."

So much for five-year-olds and Bikkurim.

The Slonimer does point out that the rebuke, the Tochachah that appears at the end of this parsha, also starts with the word v'hayah (Devarim 28,1). But this is merely the flip side to the blessings of Bikkurim and settlement of Eretz Yisrael. When a Jew recognizes that if he forgets to be grateful (Rashi, 26:3: kfui tov) to the Lord for all His gifts, then he's doomed - that consciousness too leads to happiness for Jew and God (yismchu Hashamayim v'tagel ha'aretz).

And the communal nature of Bikkurim? Rabbi Zvi Tau quotes Rabbi Kook:

"Not as individuals have we been chosen by the Lord, but as His public (tzibur), nation and kingdom. As a nation we left Egypt. As a nation we received the Torah. The burning desire for closeness to our God, and for knowledge of our God and His eminence in Israel and the world - this (and not crass materialism, crassness and xenophobia) is the basis of our nationalism." (Emunat Iteinu 7, pages 167-169)
The nation Israel reaches its peak.

When the entire nation goes up to Jerusalem, to the center of our kingdom and holiness, then the nation Israel reaches its peak (see also my "The Jordan River Rules" on this website, 2006).

The Gemara (Baba Batra 90a) expounds on this week's Haftorah: "All (the whole nation) Jews have a chelek [a portion] in the World to Come, as it says: 'Your people will all be righteous. They will inherit the land forever, never to be exiled again [no Tochachah]. They are the shoot that I planted [God's Bikkurim], My handiwork in which I take pride [not we, with Lavan-like pride]. The smallest tribe will become a thousand times its size, and the youngest tribe a mighty nation. Since I am the all-powerful Lord, I will hasten all this to happen, in the time of Redemption.' "

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