Parashat Bemidbar/Shavuot 5770/ May 19, 2010
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
The Festival of the
Rabbi Meir Gruzman
Department of Talmud
Name of the
The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) is also known as the
Festival of Receiving the Torah (Yoma 4b) as
well as the Festival of First Fruits
34:22). But while the name Hag Matan
Torateinu is deeply ingrained in the consciousness of
observant Jews and finds expression in the rules and customs associated with
the festival, the second theme, the Festival of First Fruits (Hag Ha-
Bikkurim), remains in the dark, with no practical expression
given to it among the devout Jewish community.
When the Jews were exiled, the commandment of pilgrimage to the
Perhaps the reason lies in the roots of the commandment,
its objective and restrictions. The
commandment of first fruits is not practiced except “at the
A New Perspective
A fresh look at the passage on bringing first fruits (Deuteronomy 26) can lead us to an additional, different understanding of the content and essence of this commandment, enabling us to conclude that the object of bringing first fruits was to give thanks to the Lord for giving us a land and for bringing us to it, and for the fact that we are dwelling here, living in the land and tilling its soil and enjoying its fruits.
The passage of first fruits has an unparalleled assertion,
the like of which is not found in a single one of the commandments that are
dependent on living in the
The idea of the land and the Lord’s promise, and the roots n-t-n (=give, assign) and b-w-‘ (=come, enter) are repeated a number of times in this passage. For example, “which you harvest from the land” (Deut. 26:2); “that the Lord your G-d is giving you” (ibid.); “I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign to us” (Deut. 26:3); “which You, O Lord, have given me” (Deut. 26:10), and more. These can be viewed as expressing a leitmotif indicating that, although the commandment of first fruits is dependent on bringing fruits to the Temple (see Tosephta Rosh Ha-Shanah 1.12), it expresses thanks not only for agricultural produce, but also, perhaps primarily, for the good land that the Lord swore to our forefathers He would give to our people.
Moreover, when the farmer bringing his first fruits presents himself before the priest with a basket in his hands, he recites two formulations. First he says, “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your G-d that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us” (Deut. 26:3), and then he says, “My father was a fugitive Aramean…” (Deut. 26:5). The first statement makes no mention of fruit, produce, or yield of the land, but it does contain a declaration that he, the one bringing the first fruits, has come to the land promised to the patriarchs. Were the object to give thanks to the Lord only for the harvest that the field produced for this farmer, we might expect the following sort of proclamation: “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your G-d that I have brought the first fruits of the land which You have given me” (as indeed he says further on, after “My father was a fugitive Aramean”). But the proclamation which we have here speaks for itself, attesting to the primary object of the commandment of first fruits (see Nahmanides' commentary on Deut. 26:3).
Now we come to the recitation about first fruits. After the priest takes the basket containing the fruits from the farmer’s hands and sets it down in front of the altar of the Lord, the farmer begins his second recitation: “My father was a fugitive Aramean.” First he tells about Laban the Aramean, who wanted to do in our patriarch Jacob, who lived with him for two decades. Then he tells about Jacob’s descent to Egypt, the great natural increase of the Israelites, and the terrible suffering they experienced until the Lord freed them “by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents” (Deut. 26:8), and brought them to this place, and “gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:9).
When reading this recitation one cannot help but wonder
about the juxtaposition of these two stories with the rite of presenting a
basket full of first fruits. What
connection is there between the suffering of Jacob and of the Israelites in
Now we can understand why “first fruits are brought only
from the seven varieties.” Only fruits
with which the
 Shavuot marks the beginning of the time for bringing first fruits. These were brought throughout the summer, until the Feast of Tabernacles, and sometimes even until Hanukkah (Mishnah, Bikkurim 1.6).