Shavuot is called Chag HaBikkurim, the days we celebrate giving the first fruits. It was the time that we recognised our connection to the Land and our dependence on Hashem and bring a token of gratitude to God.
Well, this message seems to be lost today. We sure have a connection to cheesecake and the land – I buy some delicious cherries from the greater Hebron area. So, I guess my connection to the land of Israel is complete. Sorry to be sarcastic, but it does highlight the shallowness of worship and life today.
While researching (via Google), I came across a treasure trove of information and inspiring insights. One example is from Rabbi Kook “Not that all Jews should become farmers. Rather, he is proposing that the integrity of the nation of Israel, and of humanity, is contingent upon the cosmopolitan city-dweller acknowledging his deep connection to the provincial farmer.”
The world talks of food shortage, security, and unhealthy agro practices with keywords such as biodiversity and regenerative Agriculture. Let’s add water and energy independence into the mix.
This blog will look at Torah sources and then share insights of Rav Kook into why we should relook at the message of Shavuot and what it means for humanity today.
What piqued my attention was an article in Torah Tidbits this last Shabbat, which started out as follows:
“In 5684 (1924), the kibbutzim in the Jezreel Valley celebrated what they called the Bikkurim Festival. They placed a different, new emphasis on Shavuot—in place of the traditional holiday celebrated throughout the generations with a focus on the giving of the Torah, Torah learning throughout the night.”
By TORAH VEHA’ARETZ INSTITUTE BY RABBI MOSHE BLOOM en.toraland.org.il In 5684 (1924
So, let’s go and look at some of the sources:
“The first pesukim of parsha Ka Tavo describes the ritual: “…you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem, your G-d, will choose…” As we will explore below, the farmers were not only thanking Hashem for an abundant harvest, but also affirming the link between Hashem, themselves, Eretz Yisrael, and the collective history of the Jewish nation.
Upon bringing their bikkurim, Jewish farmers are commanded to recite a passage relating their ancestors’ journey, to and from Mitzrayim, with the Land of Israel as the culmination.
“An Armanean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Mitzrayim and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation – great, strong, and numerous…Then we cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voice and saw our affliction, our travail, and our oppression. Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awesomeness, and with signs and with wonders. He brought us to this place, and he gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey. And now behold! I have brought the first fruit of the ground that You have given me, O Hashem!”
In addition to acknowledging Jewish historical continuity, the passage highlights our reliance on Hashem, particularly in the land of Israel.
Eretz Yisrael’s most basic sense of faith stems from an agricultural dependence on Hashem. The Jewish farmer, whose livelihood depends entirely on Hashem’s blessing, must live in a perpetual state of faith and appreciation. This faith is even indicated in the kind of fruit farmers brought as bikkurim; they only offered the seven species for which the Land is praised—wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive, and date honey. These species are native to Israel and are especially dependent on the blessing of rainwater for their growth.
The agricultural enterprise does more than just sharpen one’s awareness of Hashem. According to Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook] it also has the power to unify the Jewish nation. Commenting on the bikkurim ceremony described by the Mishnah, he writes “the first fruits symbolize the special love the nation [of Israel] has for agriculture…As opposed to the nations of the world where cohesion is fostered by trade fairs, here [in an agricultural ritual] it is built through the common denominator of pure worship of Hashem.”
On the following Mishnah, “All the professionals in Jerusalem would stand before them (the farmers) and inquire as to their welfare,” Rabbi Kook comments:
When the nation is morally depraved, when individuals’ eyes and heart are only upon money, these two types, those who engage in nature and those who engage in artifice become alienated from one another. The farmers, who dwell in villages close to nature, will be the object of disrespect on the part of the professionals who have figured out how to live by civilization divorced from nature.
In the colourful ceremony of bikkurim, which involved Jews from all walks of life, Rabbi Kook saw an opportunity to rectify the disrespect and alienation between the farmers and the townspeople. In a G-d-fearing society, each individual sector of society recognizes the relevance of the other.
Rabbi Kook is not saying that all Jews should become farmers. Rather, he is proposing that the integrity of the nation of Israel, and of humanity, is contingent upon the cosmopolitan city-dweller acknowledging his deep connection to the provincial farmer.
Today, most people are unable to trace our connection to the “provincial farmer.” Industrial agriculture is dominant, and we cannot trace the natural origins of many of the things we use in our daily lives, including plastic, medicine, and even food. Our cultures are largely divorced from nature. The loss of local culture—that intricate web of language, food, religion, economy, and ecology—is disastrous for both people and the planet. Wendell Berry, an American farmer, and writer, suggests that “lacking an authentic local culture, a place is open to exploitation, and ultimately destruction, from the centre.”  He advocates strengthening local economies, fostering connections between generations, deepening religious convictions, and, most importantly, building cohesive communities centered around specific places.
Jewish life during the times of the Batei Mikdash wove together religion, economy, food, language, and local ecology and was a highly integrated local culture. Today, the Jewish people no longer bring bikkurim since the Beit HaMikdash is no longer standing. Nevertheless, bikkurim can provide us with a model for connecting with Hashem and instill in us valuable environmental ethics.”
Today, with all the talk of Climate Change, UNSDGs – tackling poverty etc., one thing is missing is God. It seems our efforts will fail until we accept that we are limited in our efforts and accepting of a higher power. The same goes for unnecessary wars, infighting etc. The Abraham Accords remind us of our unified purpose and destiny. It also highlights the need for cooperation and working together for a better world.
There is no greater example of cooperation and connection to the land (farming, food) than the Kibbutz Model. This does not mean that we go back to Socialism, but we have today the principle of “Regenerative Capitalism”. It’s time to move to a new flavour of capitalism that puts people, place, and planet first.
In this scenario, the encouragement and establishment of new Kibbutzim both in Israel and in the developed and undeveloped world unlocks the keys to an old new lifestyle and will solve many challenges of food, poverty and climate change while offering prosperity. And as we saw, the Kibbutz has a profitable Business Model. And Funding for this should come from regenerative capitalism.
I am the CFO of an interesting, impactful Agro Business Dream Valley. The Founder and CEO, Dr Nimrod Israely, shared his views in this article he headlined:
HOW FARMERS’ COOPERATION SHAPED THE ISRAELI AGRO SECTOR AND HOW IT CAN CREATE PROSPERITY AMONG SMALL
“THE LOWEST STARTING POINT
David was born in Germany, but in the early 1940s, instead of being in high school, he was deported to a concentration death camp in Buchenwald in Germany; the Nazis tattooed a number on his left arm, which became “his name.”
He was a worthless Jewish slave who could lose his life any second if the guards wouldn’t like what he was doing. He has seen his family and friends die in the hard work or be murdered by the Nazis.
On April 11, 1945, the United States Army occupied the camp and released the prisoners.
David was only 18 years old that day but so skinny that he wasn’t sure he would live to see the next morning.
FROM POVERTY TO PROSPERITY
Life is a miracle, David survived the camps, and three years later, in 1948, he found himself in Israel, on a rocky hill establishing Kibbutz Tzuba.
Together with him were other young people; nearly all were Holocaust survivors, including a young woman who later became my mother.
The beginning was small and humble, as those young people had little funds to establish the Kibbutz, no infrastructure, or agricultural education (many had little education since they spent their high-school years in Ghettos and Concentration Camps).
The young Kibbutz members survived the winter snows and hot, blazing summers.
They never gave up and proceeded to establish the agriculture of their community. They were proud and content with their primary source of income – agriculture.
David, my mother, and the others lived and worked together, in cooperation, in the Kibbutz, which grew each year and became a highly prosperous community.
One by one, they passed away at a good age, surrounded by their families and friends in the prosperous community they established.
As my mother said shortly before passing away, “We dreamed but never dreamt it would be so successful.”
David, my mother, and the others began life in a Kibbutz as poor farmers; one should rightly ask –
Why did they choose to establish a community based on strong social bonds and cooperation (a Kibbutz) and not go on an individual journey where each sets his own farm?
Furthermore, they became prosperous farmers, while most farmers worldwide remained poor. What was the secret of their “good luck” (was it luck?)?
The answer to those questions is of utmost importance, for it may suggest how to solve global poverty among farmers.
The answer: those young people who survived the Holocaust’s death camps and fought the Israel Independence War had no illusions about life; they knew the challenges of working in agriculture in a poor young country, as Israel was in those days (less than a year old).
Based on their life (intensive) experience, they figured out that facing those challenges together, not alone, increases their success chances. So, they formed a group, established a Kibbutz, AND succeeded! “
For the full article, see.