The Importance of First Fruits: Connecting to the Tzaddik and Torah Observance
The mitzvah of bikurim (first fruits) is among those special mitzvot that can be performed in Eretz Israel. To understand its full meaning, we shall present a brief introduction of the concept.
In the Morning Prayer we recite, “Who in His goodness renews each day, continuously, the work of Creation.” As we know, the renewal of Creation occurs through the merit of the holy Torah and its study, since without it the world would not have been created (Pesachim 68b). Furthermore the Sages have said, “The Holy One, blessed be He, looked into the Torah to create the world” (Zohar II:161b). To say that the world exists by the merit of the Torah is to include the Tzaddikim as well. When they join day to night in Torah study (Mishneh Berurah, Orach Chaim 1:1), the Holy One, blessed be He, looks upon the Torah emanating from their mouths and renews the work of Creation in its perfection, more so than He would have done without the Tzaddikim’s Torah.
When we say, “Who in His goodness,” this refers to the “good” of the Torah, which is called “good” (Perkei Avoth 6:3), as it is written: “For I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah” (Proverbs 4:2). The Holy One, blessed be He, renews each day the work of Creation, and this daily renewal continues by the Torah of the Tzaddikim. We find this concept alluded to in our holy Torah: “But you who cling to the L-RD your G-d – you are alive today” (Deuteronomy 4:4). We are all alive by virtue of those who are connected to G-d, meaning the Tzaddikim, and we benefit from the life and the renewal of the work of Creation each day.
A person should realize that all renewal is a new creation, on which we must recite the blessing Shecheyanu, for all comes through the power of Torah. Consequently, we must be grateful to those who study Torah, for it is by their merit that the world exists and continues to be renewed each day. We should also realize, in particular, that the power of the Tzaddikim’s Torah is immense, for it can influence people to come closer to G-d and to purify their thoughts (see Zohar III:260a), which is why we must attach ourselves to the Tzaddik and believe in his power and holiness. By doing so, we will enable him to have a positive influence on us.
Since we have reached this point, we will be able to understand the extent of one’s connection to the Tzaddik. When people offered first fruits in Temple times, they were not brought individually. Rather, all the inhabitants of a given town assembled and came together to bring them – a king’s glory being demonstrated by a multitude of people (Proverbs 14:28) – and everyone ascended together. The ox advanced in front with its horns covered in gold, the flute was played before the procession, and so on, until they arrived at the Temple Mount (Bikurim Ch.3). It was then that each one said, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather…” (Deuteronomy 26:5).
What do the first fruits signify? When someone spends his entire life feeling that all of Creation belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He, he will believe that everything that he possesses really belongs to G-d. He will go to great lengths to reach the Temple with his first fruits to show that everything is G-d’s. He will thank G-d for these good things and implore Him to forgive him for having neglected Torah study, a neglect brought about by the fact that he worked the earth. In fact the first fruits indicate a certain degree of wealth; hence it would seem that there was a little negligence in Torah study. When he humbly arrives at the Temple, his very humility is what redeems him of this negligence, for the goal of all his work was the performance of mitzvot and the sustaining of Creation. Consequently, his ascension to Jerusalem with humility redeems his sin of neglecting Torah study, as well as the sin of feeling a certain degree of pride in his wealth. Furthermore, in the Temple he says, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather,” meaning that the evil inclination – the greatest of all deceivers (ramai, a word formed by the same letters as Arami, Aramean) – is the one who entices a person by telling him, “Go work the earth, and afterwards you can study.” The circumstances are such that he can then never study. However the Jew in his humility annuls the evil inclination and returns to the Holy One, blessed be He.
It is written in Scripture, “Vehaya [And it will be] when you enter the land” (Deuteronomy 26:1). The word vehaya always designates joy (Bereshith Rabba 42:4), for if a person works the earth to serve G-d in joy, the evil inclination will have no power over him. However if he is worried about his future and only thinks about his sustenance and wealth, the evil inclination will continue to bring him to despair in order to prevent him from studying Torah. Then when his land yields fruit, he will become boastful and imagine that it was his strength that brought him this wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17), to the extent that the evil inclination will make him sin even more. This is why atonement occurs primarily through humility when he arrives in Jerusalem, and it permits him to conquer his evil inclination, to bring out pure thoughts from his heart, and to come closer to the Holy One, blessed be He.
All this occurred, however, during Temple times. Yet since the Temple has been destroyed because of our many sins, what are we to do? How can the sin of neglecting Torah study, caused by work, be atoned for? Let us say that it is by bringing a gift to a Talmid Chacham and attaching ourselves to him. The Sages have said, “Whoever brings a gift to a Talmid Chacham, it is like he brought first fruits [to the Temple]” (Ketubot 105b). This is derived from the verse concerning the prophet Elisha: “A man came from Baal-Shalishah, and he brought to the man of G-d food from the bikurim [first fruits]: Twenty loaves of barley bread and some fresh kernels in their husks” (II Kings 4:42). This shows us the magnitude of the Tzaddik’s power and holiness, for today he exerts the same influence as the Temple did during its time. He is like a Cohen, and the Shechinah resides on him. When a person lets the Tzaddik benefit from his possessions (without the Tzaddik asking for it), he thereby demonstrates that everything he possesses comes through the power of the Tzaddik, whose merit enables Creation to be renewed. When a person finds himself near such a powerful force, he spiritually elevates himself. The power and influence of the Tzaddik, and the fact that a person humbles himself before him, also enables such a person to conquer his instincts, to stop imagining that he is wholly responsible for his success, and to overcome the traps that the evil inclination has set for him.
The power of the Tzaddik is therefore like that of the Temple before its destruction. In the same way that people ascended to Jerusalem and G-d sent his blessing on the Temple, today people come within the shade of the Tzaddik during his lifetime, and even more so after the Tzaddik’s death (for he becomes greater after he dies, and even when he is dead he is called alive [Chullin 7b]). Now in the same way that water reflects the face placed before it, so too does the Tzaddik have the power to influence the one who comes before him. This is the meaning of the phrase, “Who in His goodness renews each day, continuously, the work of Creation.” By means of the Tzaddik’s power, the Holy One, blessed be He, can more fully renew Creation, for awakenings below have an influence on awakenings above (Zohar I:77b), and the influence of the Tzaddik on earth has an affect on the influence of G-d.
What we have said up to now allows us to understand why the mitzvah of first fruits requires us to state, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Egypt,” which we state with no other mitzvah. This refers to the evil inclination, which works by weakening a person. In the beginning, it gives a person the impression that not only is it not bothering him, but on the contrary – that it helps him serve G-d! It is only when a person’s mitzvah observance is about to become habitual (as in the verse, “Their fear of Me is like rote learning” – Isaiah 29:13), that the evil inclination completely attacks a person and tries to divert him from serving G-d and observing mitzvot.
Now the mitzvah of first fruits is different than other Torah mitzvot, since before bringing the first fruits a person must pass through a certain number of hardships. These include digging, planting, harvesting, and so on, without mentioning the fact that the first fruits themselves are forbidden to eat (considered as orlah) for the first three years (Leviticus 19:23), despite the amount of work put into it. After all this, a person must conquer the evil inclination as it sows doubts in his heart by making him think that he himself was responsible for all his success. Above all, when he finally brings the first fruits, the evil inclination tries cooling his heart to prevent him from performing the mitzvah to perfection and with true fervor.
However a person should reject all these doubts, conquer his instincts that lead him to sin, and humble himself before G-d. This is why, at the time that he brings the first fruits, he states that nothing of the evil inclination clings to him, and he rejects it entirely by stating, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather.”
It follows that even someone who goes to see a Tzaddik should be vigilant that this does not become a causal excursion for him. Rather, the entire goal of his journey should be to receive the Tzaddik’s positive influence and rejoice in the presence of the Shechinah. When a person presents himself and his family before the Tzaddik, he annuls his personality before him. Thus the Tzaddik can pour upon him all the good of the world, and he can give him blessings of salvation and peace, of abundance and success in this world and in the World to Come.