|In our urban environment, it’s not easy for us to relate to the Torah’s agriculturally-based laws. But although we are not farmers, there is still much to learn from passages that spoke directly to those who did work the land.
Our parashah begins with a first law for a people who will first enter the Land of Israel: the commandment to bring Bikkurim, the first fruits of the planter’s labor. The Torah describes an elaborate ceremony involving the Israelite, his bikkurim, the priest, and oral history. “Arami oved avi–My father was a wandering Aramean.” With these words each participant is to tell a brief version of the story of Israel’s national destiny as articulated by the Torah.
The rabbis of the Mishnah, in a tractate dedicated entirely to the topic of bikkurim, describe the ritual in vivid detail. They note that each Israelite makes the verbal declaration upon presenting his offering, in Hebrew, with word-for-word accuracy. And then, the Mishnah gives us a tidbit of Temple history:
“At first, whoever could declare, declared, and whoever couldn’t was prompted. They refrained from bringing [bikkurim], so [the authorities] made a decree that they would prompt both those who knew [how to make the declaration] and those who didn’t.” (Mishnah Bikkurim 3:7)
This is a fascinating example of the implementation of a new policy based on facts on the ground. On Shabbat morning in shul, we’ll discuss the educational and social values that led to the procedural change. As you read this Mishnah, ask yourself: if I was in charge, what would I have done?