Yaakov Green

It takes more than a village – educational lessons of ‘bikkurim’

Students at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA are greeted on the first day of school.
Students at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA are greeted on the first day of school. (courtesy)

In this week’s parsha of Ki Tavo, we first focus our attention on the first fruits of the harvest season. Bikkurim are an intense expression of love and trust in Hashem that, sadly, we can no longer experience. Imagine our whole community being part of an agrarian society, doing the holy work of toiling in the fields, coaxing the land of Israel to produce fruit and sustenance by the sweat of our brow. How much sweeter that fruit would taste, how much satisfaction we would receive when sitting down to enjoy a meal after working so hard to grow and harvest with our own two hands. And now, after all that hard work – imagine simply handing over and giving away the very first fruits that your labor produces.

When I was 18 and in yeshiva in Israel, I had the chance to work on a kibbutz for a month through Bnei Akiva. Most of our team worked in the communal kitchen, and I was assigned to spend most of my time in the dairy, working with the cows. At the time, I did not think the smell of that experience would ever leave my nostrils. Every day it was hot. It was sweaty. It stunk. And I loved every second.

This is what it means to give G-d our bikkurim. That intensity of love for the Creator of us all, and the knowledge that it is not our efforts alone, but our Father and our King who is the true source of everything, inspires us now despite our inability to experience this ritual.

As parents, there is a lesson here for us as well. Our children are certainly labors of love. The blood, sweat, and more than a few tears that go into raising children is something to which we can all relate. I know of no better expression of the adage “according to the effort is the reward” (Pirkei Avot 5:23).

We pour our efforts into raising our children to be menschen, to be sweet, helpful, conscientious, thoughtful, humble, empathetic, and every other positive attribute we can imagine. We want so much for them. We work so hard for them. Sometimes it is because of this extreme effort that moments of frustration or disappointment can creep in. We doubt ourselves, or want the process to be a bit easier. We forget, as parents and as farmers, that it always takes sweat and pain to produce the sweetest of fruits.

We too often forget that we are not working alone in the field, but rather that we work in a partnership. Hashem plays his part in raising, or growing, our children. Otherwise all our efforts, by themselves, would be for naught.

At the start of the school year, we bring our children back to the teachers and staff of our beloved school, like the kohen receiving our first fruits, and remind ourselves that we recognize the partnership that it takes to raise proud Jewish leaders. Parents, school, G-d, child – all of us are working together.

May the message of bikkurim be one that we all appreciate as we begin the new school year, and enter the season of beginning a new year. Hatzalacha to all parents, students, faculty and staff as we work together, with Hashem’s help, to produce something inspirational and magical.

About the Author
Rabbi Yaakov Green is the Head of School, and an alumnus, of Maimonides School, a Modern Orthodox coed day school serving students from infants through 12th grade in Brookline, MA, where he lives with his wife Elisheva and their five children. Before coming to Maimonides, Yaakov has served as a school administrator for many years Dallas, TX, St. Louis, MO, and Boca Raton, FL. Yaakov holds a master's degree in education, concentrating in Ed. Tech. Bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and Political Science, and has participated as a cohort fellow in many educational programs in Harvard University, JTS Davidson School, and University of Missouri, St Louis. He spent several years developing innovative programs that have been implemented across North America, Israel, and Australia, in classrooms, camps, and conventions, synagogues and Sunday schools.
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