SALT - Wednesday, 12 Elul 5780 - September 2, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Ki-Tavo presents the command of bikkurim – bringing one’s first fruits to the Beit Ha-mikdash and giving them to a kohen – and it concludes this section by stating, “You shall rejoice in all the goodness which God has granted you and your household – you, the Levite, and the foreigner in your midst” (26:11).
The simple meaning of this verse, as Ibn Ezra explains, is that one must rejoice with his material blessings by sharing them with those in need.  The Leviyim were not given agricultural lands, as they were assigned the role of serving in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and so they depended on charitable gifts from the rest of the nation, and foreigners generally found themselves on the lower socioeconomic rungs.  The Torah therefore commands the people to enjoy their prosperity together with “the Levite and the foreigner” – those who require financial assistance.
            Rashi understands this verse differently, explaining that the Torah here establishes that even Leviyim and converts are included in the obligation of bikkurim.  Although Leviyim did not receive agricultural lands, and so they did not normally grow produce, nevertheless, a Levi who did plant trees and harvest fruit must bring the first fruits as bikkurim.  And a convert, Rashi writes, brings bikkurim despite being unable to recite the “mikra bikkurim” proclamation which was normally made when a farmer brought his bikkurim.  This proclamation speaks of God granting the Land of Israel to “our forefathers,” and thus a convert, who was born into a different nation and then joined Am Yisrael, cannot make this proclamation.  The Torah here establishes that a convert nevertheless brings bikkurim, even though he does not declare mikra bikkurim.  (This follows the view taken by the Mishna in Masekhet Bikkurim (1:4), that a convert does not recite mikra bikkurim.  The Rambam, in Hilkhot Bikkurim (4:3), famously rules that a convert does, in fact, recite mikra bikkurim, following the view of Rabbi Yehuda, cited in the Yerushalmi.)
            Chatam Sofer, in one of his published derashot, creatively suggested that the command to enjoy one’s material blessings together with the Levi and foreigner may also allude to the proper way to enjoy our spiritual blessings.  We should rejoice over the privilege we have been given to learn, observe, and grow.  We should feel fortunate and proud of our religious achievements.  However, Chatam Sofer explained, as we experience these feelings, we must look to the “Levi” – to the spiritual elite, to the outstanding, righteous individuals whose level we are very far from having reached.  Only after looking with humility upon the “Levi,” recognizing how much we have yet to accomplish, can we also look at the “ger” (“foreigner”), those who are distant from Torah, and feel fortunate that we have been able to achieve more.  While it is acceptable, and important, to take pride in and celebrate our achievements, this must be done with a humble recognition of what we have yet to achieve, of how much more we are capable of accomplishing, notwithstanding the feelings of joy that we ought to experience over all that we have already been privileged to accomplish.