Laden with baskets of lush green grapes and golden pomegranates, the farmer hurries to join the streams of thousands on their ascent to the holy Temple. His face radiates with an enormous smile, as he revels amidst the joyous symphony of harps and cymbals, trumpets and flutes, blended with shouts of laughter and celebration coming from every direction.
Laden with baskets of lush green grapes and golden pomegranates, the farmer hurries to join the streams of thousands on their ascent to the holy Temple. His face radiates with an enormous smile, as he revels amidst the joyous symphony of harps and cymbals, trumpets and flutes, blended with shouts of laughter and celebration coming from every direction. The harvest season has drawn to a prosperous culmination in the land of Israel, and as far as the eye can see, the landscape is filled with cheerful people traveling to Jerusalem with their bikurim (first fruits). Eager to celebrate, the entire nation excitedly anticipates the opportunity to rejoice together and give thanks to G-d for His innumerable blessings and kindnesses.
Upon arrival in the Temple courtyard, the farmer presents his baskets of fruits to the administering Kohen (priest) and directs a remarkable statement to him: "I declare today to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us" (Deuteronomy 26:3). Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, explains that the farmer seeks to express his gratitude to Hashem for giving him the land of Israel. The purpose of the declaration is for the farmer to make absolutely clear that he is not a kafui tovah, one who is unappreciative and denies the benefits he has received from another party. Why the stress on telling somebody? The Midrash explains that only by acknowledging to another person what Hashem has done for you - publicizing your appreciation to the world - can your gratitude to G-d be truly and fully expressed.
However, the farmer's expression of gratitude does not end here. After the fruit is placed before the altar, he continues with a brief, yet wide-ranging history of the Jewish people. Surprisingly, perhaps, this passage is particularly familiar to us from the Passover Haggadah, where it serves as the backdrop upon which the story of the exodus is expounded. The farmer retells that in Egypt we grew into a great nation; the Egyptians enslaved and afflicted us; we cried out to Hashem and He heard our cries; Hashem redeemed us with wonders and miracles; He brought us to a wonderful land flowing with milk and honey. The farmer then concludes his account by dramatically declaring, "And now, behold! I have brought the first fruit of the ground that You have given me, O Hashem!" (Deuteronomy 26:5-10).
The Sefer HaChinuch, a 13th century classic composition famous for its elucidation of the mitzvot, identifies the underlying purpose of the farmer's oration: It is the nature of people for their feelings to be aroused in accordance with the words that come out of their mouths. Like our physical actions, what we say has the power to stimulate our thoughts and cause them to become rooted within us. By enunciating his feelings of thanks to Hashem for bringing us to the land of Israel and blessing us with a wonderful crop, the farmer develops within his heart the recognition that everything comes from Hashem. In turn, this makes him even more deserving of receiving Hashem's blessings, and the process repeats itself again and again.
In this year's Passover issue of Torah from Dixie, we wondered why, of all passages in the Bible, was this proclamation of the farmer chosen to be the springboard for the account of the exodus in the Haggadah. What connection might there be between the experience of the farmer with his bikurim and our obligation on Passover night to retell the story of the exodus?
Perhaps the answer revolves around this element of hakarat hatov (expressing gratitude) so wonderfully conveyed by the bikurim passage. On the seder night, so much time is invested in analyzing every minute detail of the exodus experience, as we contrast the lowliness of our servitude with the exultation of our redemption. We resoundingly sing in Dayeinu that even if Hashem had only done such-and-such, it would have been sufficient to obligate us in His praise; how much more so when He took us out of Egypt, executed judgment against the Egyptians, gave us their wealth, etc. Possibly most striking is that, unlike any other night of the year, the night of Passover climaxes with the recitation of Hallel, the joyous prayer of thanks and praise to G-d. In essence, the Passover seder is one enormous expression of gratitude to Hashem. How appropriate that the vehicle through which the story is told is the passage of bikurim, whose very essence radiates with the feelings of thanksgiving we seek to express.
In truth, the obligation to express our gratitude is applicable every day of the year. The first words out of a Jewish person's mouth when he opens his eyes in the morning are "Modeh ani" - thank you, Hashem, for giving me yet another day of life. In the daily Amidah prayer we say "V'chol hachayim yoducha selah - all of the living give thanks to you," and in the Grace After Meals we say "Yitbarach shimcha b'fi kol chai - Your name is blessed in the mouths of all the living," emphasizing that only one who declares his thanks and praise to Hashem can be called "alive." In the merit of our heartfelt appreciation to Hashem and the many people who give us so much, may we be signed and sealed for the greatest blessing of all - life itself.
This issue of Torah from Dixie marks the end of an important time in my life. After nearly four years, it is my last edition as assistant editor. I'd like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to our Board of Trustees for their devotion and commitment to this wonderful publication. Particularly, I thank Editor Benyamin Cohen for providing me the opportunity to contribute in his efforts to spread Torah. His dedication to Torah from Dixie is truly remarkable, and I wish him the best as he continues in this holy endeavor. Finally, I am grateful to our many loyal readers who continually look to Torah from Dixie for inspiration and insight. Thank you.
Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.
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