The Value of First Fruits: Connecting to the Tzaddik and Torah Study
In the Morning Prayer we recite, “And in His goodness He renews each day, continuously, the work of Creation.” Now it is primarily through the study of Torah that Creation is renewed, for without it the world would not have been created at all (Pesachim 68b). As we have seen, the Holy One, blessed be He, looked into the Torah before creating the world, the same Torah whose study the Tzaddikim engage in both day and night (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 1:1). Due to this diligent study, G-d renews the work of Creation with even more intensity.
The word u’vetuvo (“and in His goodness”) refers to the Torah, for the Torah is called tov (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 Torah alludes to this in the verse, “But you who cling to the L-RD your G-d – you are alive today” (Deuteronomy 4:4), meaning that those who remained faithful were the Tzaddikim. It is because of them that we are all alive, and it is because of them that we renew each day the work of Creation.
We should realize that all renewal is actually a new creation, and that we should recite the blessing Shecheyanu on it. We should therefore express our gratitude to those who regularly study Torah, for it is due to their study that the world is sustained and renews itself each day. Their merit also encourages people to repent (see Zohar III:260a) and purifies their thoughts.
The ceremony in which first fruits were offered proceeded in the most solemn way. Since “A multitude of people is a king’s glory” (Proverbs 14:28), everyone gathered around the ministering priest as the procession, preceded by an ox whose horns were covered in gold, made its way through Jerusalem accompanied by the sounds of flutes until it arrived at the Temple Mount. There everyone recited the verse, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather…” (Deuteronomy 26:5).
The first fruits illustrate the fact that everything belongs to G-d. The one who comes to the Temple to offer them expresses his sincere gratitude to G-d and asks forgiveness for having neglected his Torah study as a result of his agricultural work. Due to this humility and sincerity, the Holy One, blessed be He, forgives him. He thus becomes especially vigilant in carrying out the mitzvot and sustaining the world.
“Arami [An Aramean] tried to destroy my forefather” (Deuteronomy 26:5) is a reference to the evil inclination, the great ramai (deceiver) that incites people to neglect Torah study for the benefit of working their fields. Through a person’s devotion and humility, however, he can eliminate it and thus come closer to Hashem.
“Vehaya [And it will be] when you enter the land” (v.1), if you work the earth in order to serve your Creator in joy, you will eliminate the evil inclination. However if you are only concerned about your sustenance and possessions, the evil inclination will not leave you the time to engage in Torah study. If the products of your field become abundant, you may claim, “My strength and the might of my hand made me this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17). Having to travel to Jerusalem leads a person to humility, enabling him to conquer the evil inclination, rid himself of inappropriate thoughts, and come closer to G-d.
All this was valid during the times of the holy Temple. However since it was destroyed because of our many sins, how can our neglect of Torah study, due to working, be forgiven? It is through the donations offered to Torah scholars and by attaching ourselves to them. As we have seen, one who offers a donation to a Torah scholar is considered to have offered first fruits, according to the Sages interpretation (Ketubot 105b) of the verse: “A man came from Baal-Shalishah, and he brought to the man of G-d food from the Bikkurim [first fruits]: Twenty loaves of barley bread and some fresh kernels in their husks” (II Kings 4:42). Here we see the role of the Tzaddik, which is similar to that of the holy Temple. Just like a Kohen, the Shechinah resides on him. If we offer him a donation without him asking for it, we demonstrate that everything comes from him and that it is because of him that Creation is renewed and man is spiritually elevated. The one who negates himself before the Tzaddik will succeed in conquering his evil inclination.
The spiritual power of the Tzaddik is similar to that of the Temple. Hashem instilled the person who ascended to Jerusalem with the blessings and holiness of the Temple. In our days, a person who comes to find refuge under the wings of the Tzaddik while he lives – and even more so after his death – will fully enjoy his blessing (Berachot 18a). Because of the Tzaddik, Hashem will more fully renew each day the work of Creation, with the Tzaddik’s influence being felt below as well as above (see Zohar I:77b).
When the mitzvah of the first fruit was performed, one would recite: “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Egypt,” which was not said with any other mitzvah. This was done in order to weaken the evil inclination, which at first tries to show that it in no way disrupts a person’s service of G-d, and that on the contrary, it helps him! Nevertheless when the evil inclination turns a mitzvah into a routine act, embodying the notion of “their fear of Me is like rote learning” (Isaiah 29:13), it completely controls a person and continuously disrupts his Torah study and mitzvot performance.
Before bringing his first fruits to the Temple, a man first had to dig, plant, harvest, and so on. Furthermore, “for three years they shall be forbidden to you, they shall not be eaten” (Leviticus 19:23). Thus after working so hard, a person had to fight the evil inclination, for it tried to make him believe that it was his own power that earned him his wealth, and it endeavored to cool his enthusiasm for serving his Creator.
It is therefore fitting that we completely rid ourselves of these inappropriate thoughts, that we go out to war against the evil inclination (which tries to make us sin), and that we submit to Hashem. This is the meaning of “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather.”