Blog Post

Biblical Gratitude

Dear Friends.

This weeks Recovery thought on gratitude, is dedicated to my dear friend Mr. Sid Goodman, founder and CEO of Caron Renaissance.

This week’s Torah portion opens with a discussion of the Mitzvah of “Bikkurim,” the First Fruits. Upon the ripening of the first fruits of the season (any of the seven species associated with the Land of Israel) a farmer would fill a basket with the ripened fruits and bring them to the Temple in Jerusalem, and offer them as a gift to the Kohen (Priest), to declare thanks to G-d for the goodness He has bestowed upon the farmer.

Of course, at the time Moses tells all of this to the Jewish people, they were still sitting in the desert; without any fields of wheat or barley; without pomegranate, date, fig, and olive trees; and without any vineyards. Only when they finally entered the Land of Israel would this commandment be made effective. And so the Torah portion begins: “And it will be, when you come into the land which the Lord, your G-d, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it.”

The commentators, always sensitive to every nuance in Torah, question the seemingly superfluous words, “and you possess and settle it.” Obviously, you can’t bring the first fruits, if you do not possess and settle the land. You need to own an orchard in order to grow fruits and bring a basket of it to the Kohen (Priest). Entering the land alone is insufficient; you must take acquisition of the land and settle it. Why does the Torah have to add those words?

Rashi, the classic Biblical Commentator, comes to the rescue. By adding those extra words, Rashi informs us, we are being taught this Mitzvah of the First Fruits is different: “This teaches us that they were only obligated to bring the First Fruits once they had conquered the land and split it up.”

The Conquest of the land by Joshua took seven years. Afterward, each of the 12 tribes of Israel received their own respective portion of the land, a process that took another seven years. So, in other words, the Jewish people had to wait to bring their fruits to the Temple and give thanks, not just until they had conquered and began to settle the land, but only until it had been entirely divided; until everyone else had received their piece of land.

Had the Torah not added those three words, we would assume that right when I received my portion in the beginning of the seven years of dividing the Land I would be obligated to bring “The first fruits”. The moment, I gain ownership of my field or garden and I begin to grow fruit, I need to bring a basket as a gift to the Kohen (Priest). Hence, the Torah emphasizes that this Mitzvah did not apply till the end of the fourteen years when the entire nation received their part in the Holy Land.

But all of this leads us to a perplexing state of affairs: The point of the First Fruits was for the farmer to take the bounty produced by his land, and give thanks to G-d for it, and to not appear to be ungrateful. When I am in a state of joy and satisfaction, I must say “Thank You.” In Judaism, we do not take the blessings of life, plenty, and health for granted. Bikkurim was the farmer’s way of expressing gratitude to the Almighty for showering him with blessings and goodness. If that is the case, then why would it make the slightest difference whether or not someone on the other side of the country has land, and fruit of his own? Did I get fruit? Yes. Did G-d provide me the land, the rain that helped grow the crop, the energy to work the land, and the fruit itself? Of course! Am I appreciative? No question! So why couldn’t I bring my Fruits yet, just to say a simple ‘Thank You’?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in an address in 1965, offers an incredibly powerful answer to this question: “As long a single person had not yet received, and settled, his own parcel of land; had received that which was rightfully theirs, it was impossible for anyone to truly enjoy his own.

Bringing “the first fruit” was, first and foremost, a celebration of all the gifts the farmer received from G-d. It was a tremendously happy occasion, as the Torah states explicitly. But as long as the other tribes were yet to fully settle and free to work their own land, how could one fully celebrate? How could one fully enjoy what he has, to rejoice, to truly be proud, happy, and thankful, when he knows that his brothers are still without a home and field of their own? They may be in a different tribe, in the other side of the country, but they are part of him; their fulfillment is his own!

If just one person, whoever it may be,wherever they may be, remained unfulfilled, and unsatisfied, then we too, are incomplete. Their triumphs are our triumphs, their losses are our losses, and their struggles are our struggles. For me to win, I need them also to win.

The story is told of a man who bought a ticket to ride on a large ferry.

As he arrived to board the ship, he was disappointed to find that his seat was located far away from any of the windows, and try as he might, he could barely catch a glimpse of the water.

“I only got a ticket, so I could see the water,” he told himself angrily.

Frustrated, he decided to go with the obvious option, and began banging away at the floor of the boat in order to drill a hole so he could see some of that lovely blue water. The alarmed sailors quickly stopped and seized the man, and hauled him before the captain, reporting exactly what the passenger had done.

“What in the blazes do you think you were doing?” demanded the furious captain.

“I was just trying to make a hole under my seat,” said the man, “after all, I paid for that seat with my own money – I should be able do whatever I want with it!”

“You fool,” said the captain. “If you make a hole in the ship, we will all sink.”

May the coming year be a year in which we can truly appreciate and be grateful for all that we have been blessed with, while being sensitive and attentive to the struggles and plight of others.   Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Meir Kessler