Your Context

Whenever a non-sequitur pops up in the Torah, it’s a sure sign that there’s a message lurking beneath the surface. In the opening verses of this week’s parasha, we are told of the process of the bringing of bikkurim, the first fruits. Each year, the Israelites would bring the first fruits of their harvest – a minimum of 1/60 – to the Temple as an offering to God. Along with the offering, each Israelite had to say a formula, succinctly summarising, in only a few sentences, the entire history of the Jewish people.

An obvious question arises at this juncture. Why repeat the entire history of the Jewish people, each year, with the bringing of the fruits? What is the purpose behind the formula?

There is a tendency, with wealth especially, to fall into the trap of thinking that, due to my hard work, sweat, and many hours of toil, I somehow am solely responsible for the fruits of my labour. Indeed, this type of thinking is dangerous, as God warns us earlier in the Torah,

Beware that you do not forget the Lord, your God, by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command you this day, lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases, and your heart grows haughty, and you forget the Lord, your God, Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, who led you through that great and awesome desert, [in which were] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought water for you out of solid rock, who fed you with manna in the desert, which your forefathers did not know, in order to afflict you and in order to test you, to benefit you in your end, and you will say to yourself, “My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me.”

In a few powerful lines, enveloped in meaning, we are returned to our roots, to our Creator. In a short formula, we recognise again that it was God who helped us to produce these fruits, not us alone.

A question still remains. We could have been reminded of this fact in many different ways; why use a formula that includes our earliest history and runs until the present day?

As a Human, and as a Jew, one’s life gains meaning from context. When one knows where he came from, knows where he is going to, and knows how he fits in to that context, his life suddenly gains immense power. His choices matter, not just because they relate to him, locally, but because they have ramifications in the widest of arenas! When the Israelite recites the Bikkurim formula before God, he is placing within himself an awareness of his place within the world, and within Israel.

With that frame of reference, the Israelite is free to “rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household”, for it is now that he truly understands how much he matters.

We all matter. We all exist as part of a larger context, a larger nation, within God – Existence Itself. The Bikkurim ceremony reminds us what we are living for, and to whom we live to connect.

Shabbat shalom.

About the Author
Hailing originally from Chicago and later from Israel where he served as a combat medic with the IDF, Samuel Millunchick was educated at the University of Illinois, at Yeshivat Yesodei HaTorah and at the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Chicago. He now lives in London with his wife and children. Sam is involved in Jewish education across the London community, and is training to be an Orthodox Rabbi. Drawing on his experiences with Jews in all walks of life, Sam is passionate about ‘making Judaism accessible and appealing to every Jew’.