“When you enter the Land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and live in it, you must take some of the first of all the soil’s produce that you harvest from the Land the Lord your God is giving you … Then go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to have His name dwell. And you shall come before the kohain who will be in those days, and say to him “I declare this day to the Lord, your God, that I have come to the Land which the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us.”… Then the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with terrifying power, and with signs and wonders. He led us to this place and gave us this Land, a Land flowing milk and honey. I have now brought the first of the Land’s produce that You, Lord, have given me.”
Thus, the Torah presents the parasha of bikurim, in which the Israelite farmer is commanded, upon reaching the Land, to bring his first-ripened fruit (bikurim) to the kohain in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and recite the words contained in pesukim (verses) five through ten.
The Torah instructs that the bikurim be brought “before the kohain who will be in those days,” on which Rashi comments “You have only the kohain in your days, whatever he is.”
Ramban questions the need for Rashi’s comment, noting that the only possibility is for the farmer to bring his bikurim to the kohain who serves in his time. Ramban remarks that it is true that Chazal (our Sages) make a similar comment in connection with judges, yet the Chazals’ comment is understandable, since a judge issues his decision based upon his personal understanding and wisdom. Thus, we might entertain the idea that if the judge is not on the standard of previous generations of judges, we are not obligated to accept his legal decisions. However, the function of the kohain is not related to his personal abilities, but to the simple fact that he is a descendant of Aaron. Why should we expect that there be a difference between the kohain of this generation and previous kohanim?
Bringing Bikurim – Rectification of the Sin of the Spies
Rashi comments on the farmer’s words “I declare this day to the Lord, your God, that I have come to the Land which the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us” – “That you are not ungrateful.”
We must understand why the Torah stresses that the farmer must declare that he is not ungrateful.
We may suggest that bringing bikurim constitutes rectification of the sin of the spies, which involved being ungrateful for God’s gift of the Land to the Nation of Israel. By bringing bikurim to the kohain, the Israelite demonstrates appreciation of the Land and its fruit, thanking God for both. In so doing, the Israelite farmer follows in the footsteps of Yehoshua and Calev, who declared “The Land is very very good,” [Bamidbar 14:7] and unlike the ten spies, he is not ungrateful. Thus, Rashi emphasizes “That you are not ungrateful.”
The Reason to Bring Bikurim to the Kohain
The suggestion that bikurim constitute rectification of the sin of the spies answers another question concerning bikurim: Why are they to be brought specifically to the kohain? Apparently, it should be possible to bring bikurim to the Beit HaMikdash without giving them to the kohain.
The spies were sent by Moshe and Aaron to see Eretz Yisrael, and upon their return, they spoke ill of the Land, attracting the nation to accept their negative report. In addition to the ten spies’ report constituting a sin against God, it was a sin against Moshe and Aaron, who were the first Kohanim Gedolim (Moshe served as Kohain Gadol during the dedication of the mishkan). Therefore, rectification of the sin requires asking forgiveness from Moshe and Aaron, however, since the Children of Israel entered the Land after the deaths of Moshe and Aaron, they are unable to ask forgiveness from them, and the Torah commands that the bikurim be brought to the kohain, who as it were, represents the original Kohanim Gedolim. In this manner, it is considered as if the farmer admits to Moshe and Aaron his sin against them. Admission of this mistake is made through bringing the good fruit of the Land to the kohain and by the declaration that the Land flows milk and honey.
Recognizing Eretz Yisrael as God’s Gift
Upon reflection, we can discern an additional aspect of rectification of the sin of the spies which is conveyed by the farmer’s declaration, which expresses the proper attitude towards Eretz Yisrael, as opposed to the improper approach of the ten spies.
Upon their return, the ten spies reported to Moshe “We came to the Land to which you sent us” [Bamidbar 13:27] and referred to “The Land which we traversed” [ibid., 32] without mentioning that it is the Land which was given to us by God. The majority report of the spies related to Eretz Yisrael as something external, foreign to the spies and the nation, not as a Divine gift. In contrast, the Torah’s attitude is that the Land is indeed God’s gift to His nation, as is specified in the preamble of the parasha of bikurim: “When you enter the Land the Lord your God is giving you …” The Torah’s attitude towards the Land as God’s gift is expressed in the text of the declaration of bikurim: “I declare this day to the Lord, your God, that I have come to the Land which the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us” [posuk 3]; “He led us to this place and gave us this Land” [posuk 9]; “I have now brought the first of the Land’s produce that You, Lord, have given me” [posuk 10].
The Torah’s attitude towards Eretz Yisrael as God’s gift to Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) teaches the importance of the Land and allows us to realize that it is not through our own deeds that we received her. Just as a gift is given without compensation from the recipient, so the Land is a great gift which cannot be seen as compensation for the good deeds of any nation.
Thanks for the Land in Our Days
We have seen the importance of thanking God for the gift of the Land, which is expressed through bringing bikurim and its recitation.
The question which arises is: during our times, when we are not privileged to have the Beit HaMikdash, how can we express this appreciation? We may suggest that Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim are suitable times to thank God for the gifts of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim, since they commemorate the nation’s return to sovereignty over the Land and over the Holy City.
We have seen that the Israelite farmer must bring his first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash and present them to a kohain. The farmer is obligated to recount the path of Am Yisrael from the exile of Ya’akov and the nation’s descent to Egypt to its return to its Land. The farmer is obligated to give thanks for the Land and not be ungrateful. We explained that bringing bikurim to a kohain and the bikurim recitation are rectification for the sin of the spies, when the Nation sinned against God and against Moshe and Aaron by speaking ill of the Land. Giving bikurim to a kohain, who represents the spiritual leadership of the nation, constitutes rectification of the sin against Moshe and Aaron.
We saw that the ten spies related to the Land as something foreign and external to them, rather than as a Divine gift, while in contrast, bringing bikurim conveys love of the Land and the realization that she is indeed God’s gift to His nation.
In our days, though we lack the ability to bring bikurim to the Temple, we can still fulfill the obligation to express appreciation especially on Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, the days which signal Israel’s return to sovereignty over the Land and its capital.
May it be God’s will that we continue to thank Him for the gift of the Land and thereby merit the complete redemption, speedily in our days. Amen.