Parshat Ki Tavo: Bikkurim – A Thank You for the Fruit Or for the Land of Israel?

Parshat “Ki Tavo”, describes our obligations concerning the mitzvah of Bikkurim – the presentation of the first fruits of the harvest, which only comes into effect after we conquer and settle the promised land (Deuteronomy: 26):

1And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which  HaShem giveth thee for an inheritance, and dost possess it, and dwell therein;
2That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that  HaShem giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket…
3And thou shalt come unto the priest…
9And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
10And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, HaShem, hast given me
כו,א וְהָיָה, כִּי-תָבוֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ, נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה; וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בָּהּ.
כו,ב וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית כָּל-פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר תָּבִיא מֵאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ–וְשַׂמְתָּ בַטֶּנֶא..
.כו,ג וּבָאתָ, אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן…
כו,ט וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ.
כו,י וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, ה’…”

Why Bikkurim?

Since the Torah explains that Bikkurim constitutes a gift, Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzva 91 states:

“The roots of this mitzvah… we should know and recall that all of our blessings in this world are from Hashem, and therefore we are ordered to present to the servants of His House the first fruits that ripen on our trees… we will become worthy of blessings and our fruits will be blessed.”

This approach raises several questions: first, if we are expressing gratitude for the crops, i.e. the fruits – why is the mitzva of Bikkurim performed only after Hashem has granted us our inheritance and we have settled in the land of Israel?  This requirement to settle in Israel is supported by the Rambam who states that only a person who owns the land upon which the fruit trees grow, may bring Bikkurim.  For example, if a person purchases a tree on his neighbor’s land, he doesn’t bring Bikkurim because he doesn’t own the land (Rambam, Hilchot Bikkurim, 2:12)

Considering the laws of Bikkurim in conjunction with the text of the Mikra Bikkurim (Bikkurim Declaration) gives new meaning to the words “And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, Hashem, hast given me” – the land is the focus, not the fruit.  Therefore, we are not simply expressing our gratitude for the fruit harvest, the mitzva is actually about giving thanks for the gift of the  land of Israel, which is conveyed by landowners who bring the first fruits of their trees to Jerusalem and thereby express their thanks for the land – the historical event mentioned in the Parsha’s preamble.

Girl Bringing First FruitsIt would seem that we have resolved our conundrum – in order to give thanks for the land, one has to own land.  But if we are givings thanks for the land, then should not any  fruit raised in Israel on privately owned land qualify as a symbol of Hashem’s blessings thereby making any fruit appropriate to bring to Jerusalem to offer  thanks?  Why do only fruits of the Seven Species qualify for this mitzva? Do the fruits of the Seven Species have some unique trait that strengthens the bond between the Nation of Israel, the Land of Israel and the Creator?

Biblical Descriptions of the Land of Israel

Let’s examine some of the Bible’s descriptions of the land of Israel

“7…a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; 8A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive (oil)-trees and honey;” -(Deut. 8:??) The Promised Land is identified by  particular crops, specifically the Seven Species.

12A land which HaShem careth for; the eyes of HaShem are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year” (Deut. 11:12).

This sentence is very interesting because of Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 27:28: 28  “HaShem will give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fruitful places of the earth, and plenty of  grain and wine.” Rashi quotes this verse  (Deut. 11:12)  and explains that it describes a Land that has constant contact with HaShem.  This idea is supported by other sources in the Bible. For example, as a reward for keeping the Mitzvot “14I will give the rain of your land in its season…” Other lands also enjoy the rain, but most have rivers and lakes that act as independent water sources. The main source of water in the Land of Israel is the rain (dew and rain – the Kinneret and the springs are rain-dependent).

The answer to the question why Bikkurim are brought only from fruit of the Seven Species is based on a special feature of the Seven Species.  Israeli farmers know that it is necessary to irrigate the fields during the hot summer months, otherwise the vegetation dries up.  There are wild plants that can survive the dry summer months, but cultured plants e.g. cotton, vegetables, fruit trees, cannot survive without irrigation. The Seven Species are unique in that their growth patterns and needs are compatible with the water regime in Israel – they can survive on rainfall alone (without irrigation).

The reason that we bring fruits of Seven Species alone for Bikkurim – choice fruits that have grown thanks to the rain in Israel – is that the rain that we received came in answer to our prayers to HaShem, here in the land of Israel, the Promised Land. These fruit are the best affirmation that we have arrived in the Promised Land, and therefore we go to Jerusalem to give thanks for this land and its support of the special loving relationship between the people of Israel and the Creator of the world.

Now that we have revealed the secret of the Seven Species as a testimony to Hashem’s love for the people of Israel, we can understand the proximity of the blessings for the rain (Mevarech HaShanim) and the redemption as presented in Yerushalmi ([Venice] Berachot chap 2 page 5 column 1 halacha d):

ר’ לוי בשם ר’ אחא בר חנינא מה ראו לסמוך מברך השנים למקבץ נדחי ישראל על שם ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופיריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל למה כי קרבו לבוא נתקבצו הגליות והדין נעשה הזידי’ נכנעין והצדיקים שמחים.

Rav Levy in the name of Rav Acha Bar Chanina: Why is Mevarech HaShanim close to MeKabetz Nidchi Yisrael? Because of the pasuk “And you the mountains of Israel will bear forth fruit for my people Israel who have come…”

The mitzvah of Bikkurim teaches us the secret that extends  from the past all the way to the future: “And as you come to Israel” – at the time of Yehoshua; during the return from Babylon; and in the time of the future redemption. How will you know that the time of the redemption has come? When the connection between the nation and HaShem is no longer hidden as it has been during the exile, and when once again the connection between Israel and HaShem is revealed to All in the land of Israel, through the renewal of the country and by the fruit it produces (the fruit of the Seven Species that depend on the blessing of the heaven above, the blessings of rainfall)—then we will know that we are indeed in the time of redemption.

Now, during the month Elul, as we get closer to Rosh HaShanna – the New Year, we read the Parsha Ki Tavo and remember the Bikkurim which remind us of HaShem’s love for His people Israel which is revealed by His granting us the land of Israel and its fruits; and we will therefore remember His promises and strengthen our resolve to do Teshuva and follow His laws and love the Land of Israel and hope for the coming of MaShiAch and the building of the Temple BimHeira BeYameinu.

Rabbanit Shoshana Boublil
Rabbanit Shoshana Boublil is a member of Beit Hillel. She is the founder and head of the Midrasha for Torah-Inspired Sustainability as well as a Permaculture Designer.


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