Connecting to the Tzaddikim of the Generation
Our parsha begins with the passage describing the duty to bring bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple. When we look at the verses of this parsha more closely, we see some profound principles that can serve as a model for personal conduct, rules by which to live our lives. However this only applies when we infuse these principles into our hearts, which in turn will be our reward. What is the mitzvah of bikkurim? When a person goes into his orchard and sees a ripened fig or pomegranate, he must attach a string to them and declare that they are bikkurim for the priests of the Temple. This means that he collects the fruits he has worked several years to grow and designates them for the priests. However this doesn’t happen every year, since the fruits produced by a tree in its first three years are deemed orlah, and during the fourth year there are restrictions on how they may be eaten (their designation being neta revai). When a person can finally eat a tree’s fruits, it is a mitzvah to bring its first fruits to the priests of the Temple. This principle shows us the paramount importance of having faith in G-d. Thus without saying a word in protest, a person must refrain from eating the fruits of his trees for four entire years. Even afterwards he has to have faith in G-d and His mitzvot, bringing his first fruits to the priests in the Temple. In this way a person also demonstrates his faith in the tzaddikim of the generation – the priests – otherwise he wouldn’t agree to bring his produce to them.
We discover another thing in the passage regarding the bikkurim. When a person utters his vidui (confession) upon bringing his first fruits, he is forbidden to say it softly. Instead he must raise his voice and speak loudly, as the Sages have said concerning the verse, “You shall call out and say” (Deuteronomy 26:5). What exactly does a person say? As the Sages have stated, to prove that we are not ungrateful he says, “Now I have brought the first of the fruits of the ground…” (v.10). We shall discuss this later on in more detail.
We discover something else at the end of the passage on the bikkurim. After his confession, a person states: “Look down from Your holy habitation, from Heaven, and bless Your people Israel…” (v.15). This is difficult to understand, for the person in question has just brought the first of his fruits – not the fruits of his neighbor – to the Temple. It would therefore seem appropriate for him to ask Hashem to look down from Heaven and bless him and his family! How could this be the right time to request a blessing for the entire Jewish people?
If we were to look at the subject more closely, however, we would see a connection between these three principles: Having faith, showing gratitude, and praying for the entire Jewish people. It is precisely by doing these three things that a person can and should live his life. The Sages have said that whoever brings a gift to a talmid chacham is considered to have brought bikkurim (Ketubot 105b). We need to understand this, for what connection is there between a gift offered to a Torah scholar and first fruits? A gift to a Torah scholar is a form of tzeddakah, yet what connection does that mitzvah have with the mitzvah of bikkurim? Perhaps we could understand the connection if the Sages had said than one who brings fruits to a Torah scholar is as if he had brought first fruits. Yet as it stands, what connection is there between the mitzvah of giving tzeddakah to a talmid chacham and bringing bikkurim?
It is in man’s nature to live life with a sense of confidence, thinking that nothing bad will happen to him. Because people believe they know how to live their lives, if they ever have to make concessions to others or diminish their own importance, it seems catastrophic to them. However this is not the case for a person whose actions are all done for the sake of Heaven. Such a person constantly tries to better himself and come closer to Hashem.
Consequently, when a person sacrifices something he possesses and brings a gift to a talmid chacham, he demonstrates just how much confidence he has in his Creator and the tzaddikim of the generation. By doing so he proves that he is offering bikkurim to Hashem, for he wants to have faith in Him, observe all His mitzvot, and follow His ways. Therein lies the connection between a gift given to a Torah scholar and the bringing of first fruits.
It sometimes happens, however, that a person encounters the tzaddik of the generation but does not notice any effect from his blessing. This is because such a person has acted improperly and is not worthy of his blessing. The tzaddik then tells the person that he cannot help him, and that he has to address himself directly to the Creator. At that point a great deal of patience is required of a person, especially with regards to not showing ingratitude. He must not say, “If the tzaddik couldn’t help me, it’s because he’s useless.” Absolutely not! It’s forbidden to be ungrateful, for the tzaddik also wants the good of people!
The tzaddikim of the generation make the connection between us, insignificant as we are, and the Holy One, blessed be He. It is very difficult to truly arrive at the Throne of Glory, and the tzaddikim of the generation intercede on our behalf to help us in everything we do, as Rabbi Shlomo Hacohen of Radomsk Zatzal said in his book Tiferet Shlomo (Parsha Nitzavim). If a person is ungrateful and does not acknowledge the greatness of the tzaddik of the generation, the latter cannot help him.
Above all, the tzaddik intercedes for the entire Jewish people as a whole. He desires the good of the community as much as the good of the individual. Hence when a person brings his bikkurim, he must say: “Bless Your people Israel.” He must include himself in the entire community in order to benefit from the blessing of the tzaddik of the generation. If he says that they are of little concern to him and that only he himself counts, he will benefit from no blessing whatsoever.
Thus the passage on the bikkurim teaches us the proper guidelines to follow in life. It teaches us just to what point we must cling to the tzaddikim of the generation, since every favor we grant them is returned a hundred times over, bringing us good in every possible way. Let us cling to the tzaddikim of the generation and demonstrate our faith in them, just as the verse states: “They had faith in the L-RD and in His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).