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A Message from Our Rabbi

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Rubric: Parsha

Title: If You’re Happy, I’m Happy, Too

By Rabbi David Shushan

In our parsha, we speak about the commandment of bringing the first fruits to the Holy Temple, known as “Bikkurim” in Hebrew. This commandment applies only to the seven fruits with which the land of Israel was blessed, as detailed in Deuteronomy 8:8.

The verse within our parsha says (Deuteronomy 26:1): “When you enter the land that your G-d is giving you as heritage, and you inherit it and settle in it.”

According to the Talmud (Kidushin 37b), the verse’s mention of “inherit” and “settle” indicates that this commandment, or mitzvah, took effect only after the land had been settled and among the entire Jewish nation. This division occurred approximately 14 years after initial entry and conquest of the land.

Indeed, the process of conquering the promised land and assigning territories to different tribes spanned 14 years.

We know that the land of Israel was conquered slowly, step-by-step, in accordance with Exodus 23:30, which states, “little by little I will drive them out.” This suggests that certain tribes received their allotted lands more quickly than others.

So, the verse associates the mitzvah of Bikkurim with the settlement of the Jewish people.

If this is so, we might assume it went by tribe; as soon as one tribe got its land, it would begin presenting Bikkurim to the Temple, as it was settled per the verse’s instruction.

But no. The Talmud clarifies that the “settlement” referred to in the Torah is not specific to individual tribes. Rather, it signifies a collective settlement: If even a small portion of the Jewish nation lacks this settlement, the entire nation is not obligated to bring Bikkurim to the Temple.

This raises a question: The meaning of the Bikkurim mitzvah is to thank G-d for the good that He did for us and to show Him that we are not ungrateful. If this is so, why wouldn’t those tribes that swifty acquired their land, planted trees, and reaped fruits feel thankful and fulfill this obligation promptly by bringing Bikkurim to the temple?

This mitzvah, however, teaches us a tremendous lesson in unity.

The Torah’s perspective is that even if a Jew is financially comfortable, his contentment is incomplete if there’s a fellow Jew who hasn’t yet secured his portion of land and remains in discomfort. As a result, his ability to genuinely and sincerely express gratitude to G-d is hindered, as this situation will cause a lack of joy.

According to Jewish law, the mitzvah of Bikkurim was to be observed during the most joyous period of the year, typically around Sukkot. This is the time when people bring home their harvests, promoting real happiness that aligns with the act of Bikkurim.

But if an individual is sad for any reason, even during this festive Bikkurim season, he won't be able to bring the fruits and fulfill the mitzvah. This is precisely why the mitzvah couldn't be fulfilled before every Jew had settled; as the Torah says, the happiness of the Jewish people was interdependent, so until all tribes secured their portions of the land, a complete sense of joy could not be attained.

This is similar to the reason why in Israel we start saying the prayer for rain, “veten tal umatar,” or for Sephardim, “barech aleinu,” only on the 7th of Cheshvan during winter, not right after Sukkot. After Sukkot, all the Jews who went to temple for the holiday go back home. If we ask for rain right away, it might make their journey difficult. So, we wait until the

last person arrives at the edge of Israel, which happens to be on the 7th of Cheshvan. Then, all the Jewish people in Israel start praying for rain together.

Here again we see a deep unity between the people. A person in Israel will not ask for rain, which they need, until his fellow travelers are able to reach the Perath River (Euphrates River) without any problems along the way.

We could consider a personal idea here that is not officially mentioned anywhere. This mitzvah of thanking G-d with the Bikkurim might have a special connection with the Bukharian people. The Hebrew word ‘Bikkurim” and the term “Bukharim” (referring to the Bukharian Jewish community) share the same letters. This connection reflects the generous nature and concern for others that the Bukharian culture and Jews of Uzbekistan have.

We could also mention why we read parshat Ki Tavo before the high holidays. It’s like showing G-d that despite our differences, be they level of religiosity or identity (Sephardic or Ashkenazi), we’re trying to come together to improve our unity for a happy and sweet new Jewish year.

In our prayers, we say, "Bless us, our father, all of us as one" three times a day. The important idea is that G-d blesses us when we are all united as one.

This strong unity among the Jewish people was revealed even more on the 18th of Elul, the birthday of the two luminaries of kabbalah and chassidut: The Baal Shem Tov and the Admu''r Azaken, Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Liady. Through their teachings, they showed a new way of understanding how to love our fellow Jew as we love ourselves.

Rabbi D. Shushan leads the Youth Minyan at the BJCC. Join us for Shabbat Tefillah (morning prayers) at 9:45 AM on the 2nd floor! All are welcome to participate in the minyan and hear the Rabbi's inspiring sermon.


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