Rigoberto Vinas

A Modern Bikurim Statement – To Thrive Not Just Survive!

Divrei Emmanuel Words of Torah in honor of Parashat Ki Tavo 5774

“The Mitzvah of Jewish Sovereignty over Israel”

“When you enter into the land which God your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall take possession of it and settle in it. Then you shall take some of the first to ripen fruits from every fruit of the ground, which you gather in from your land, that God, your God is giving you. You should put it into a basket and go to the place which God your God will choose to make his name rest there. You shall come to the priest who is present in your times and you shall say to him, I am declaring today to God, that I have come to the land which God swore to our fathers to give to us….” (Dev. 26:1-30)

Rashi explains that the mitzvah of the first fruits could not actually be carried out until the Jews would completely conquer the land. Once achieving sovereignty over it each was commanded to present a basket of first fruits every year and make a declaration that he was presenting the first fruits of the land that was given to us by God as an inheritance from our fathers. The one presenting the basket would go on and recite a basic review of Jewish history that focused on our process of moving into the land. He would wave the basket and place it before the altar. Then he prostrated himself there, left and rejoiced.

Our Rabbis tell us that the full conquest of the land of Israel took over 14 years. Why did a Jew have to wait all that time in order to accomplish this mitzvah? Why is this mitzvah dependant upon Jewish sovereignty over Israel? Isn’t it enough to know that the land is our land and was given to our ancestors – why do the Jews have to rule over it as part of this mitzvah? Why couldn’t we present our baskets of fruit during foreign occupation or dominion of the land?

The conquest of the land is direct mitzvah in the Torah. We are to be sovereign over our land. We are not to allow other nations to enslave us oppress us or dominate us. Rather the Torah considers it so important that we are commanded to go to war and conquer the land.

Why? Because part of the miracle of Jewish survival is not just our survival but our triumph and success while surviving.

The presenter of the basket would describe how the Aramean (Laban) tried to destroy our father Jacob and then Jacob and his family went down to Egypt and became powerful there. But then the Egyptians enslaved us and we cried out to God and he saved us with an outstretched arm and great wonders…. And he brought us to the Holy Temple and to this land of Milk and Honey….

There have been many who have sought to destroy us but today not only did we survive but we have prospered to the point where we produce fruits and flowers in places that were formerly desert. We were the oppressed and killed, the downtrodden and today we have an army capable of defending ourselves. We lived in fear, unable to express ourselves and our opinions, today we live openly and proudly as Jews with our own intact language, culture, religion, laws, a flag etc.

Jews can never be satisfied with just surviving – we must ensure that we not only survive we must thrive. The statement that the presenter of the basket made was one that clearly stated that our survival was miraculous, that it came about because of God’s love for us. It admits that we have and have had enemies in the past but we overcame them. It also reminds us that our entrance and conquest of the land was miraculous and a result of God’s love for us and begs us to remember this continually.

Perhaps we should revive this ritual in Modern Israel. Let me state a modern equivalent of this ancient statement, that could accompany our first fruits of the land of Israel;
“The Roman’s came to our land and wanted to annihilate us. They destroyed our temple, killed our children and raped our women. They put is in exile to utterly destroy us. But our fathers and mothers held on. They kept reminding us of your love for us – how you have never forsaken us. The crusaders came to kill us but they never dominated us. The Inquisitors tried to change us but they never changed our souls. Our fathers and mothers reminded us of you and your promise to rebuild us as a great nation. Our enemies continued in the Arab world making us dhimmis (second class citizens) but we were first class in the eyes of our parents and in the eyes of our God. We remembered you oh Israel. We desired you with our last breath. Our enemies in Europe tried to kill us in gas chambers and concentration camps – the nations did nothing to save us – millions of us died. We appeared lost but you returned us to our land. The vanquished suddenly became an army of conquerors! We returned to our land and you performed miracles for us so that we could return here. Our enemies in Ethiopia tried to starve us – during their own famine but we sought you and you saved us. We came from all the four corners of the earth. From Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. We have worked our land and now you oh God have made what was a desert fruitful.”

Let us celebrate God’s promises to our ancestors coming true in modern times through the State of Israel. As true Zionists we wholeheartedly return to our land, our culture, our language and our God who makes the impossible all possible. Ken Yehi Ratzon

Shabbat Shalom – From Rabbi Rigoberto and Rabbanit Sandra  Viñas & family


About the Author
Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Viñas (“Manny”), grew up in a traditional Sephardic home, born to parents of Cuban Sefardic ancestry who came to America after the Cuban Revolution in 1960. He was born and raised in Miami , Florida. Rabbi Viñas has Rabbinical ordination from Kollel Agudath Achim.
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