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September 19, 1986 - Image 104

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-09-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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RABBI MORTON F. YOLKUT

Special To The Jewish News

wise man once said:
"The secret of mean-
•ngful living is to 'put
first things first.' " By this he
meant that one must have a
proper scale of priorities in
life. This appears to be excel-
lent advice until one has to
decide what to put first.
values
what scale of
should we employ?
The answer to this question
is found in the juxtaposition
of two mitzvot described in
this week's Torah portion.
The first is the ceremony of
bikurim, where the indi-
vidual who owned fruit trees
in Israel was obliged to bring
his first ripe fruits to the
Temple in Jerusalem.
The Mishnah describes in
minute detail and pictures-
que prose how these fruits
were gathered, packed, and
carried on the shoulders of
the pilgrims all the way to
the Holy City. It then in-
forms us that they were
greeted by the dignitaries of
the city with music and song
and testimonial speeches
(Bikurim 3:3,4).
Viewing this ceremony and
the accompanying praise and
recognition, an observer
might presume that extensive
and generous offerings had
been made. He would be sur-
prised to learn that Jewish
law does not stipulate the
exact quantity to be given as
bikurim. Indeed, the first
fruits are included among the
items that ein lahem shiyer,
that have no limits or
parameters. One might ob-
serve this mitzvah by giving
anything — one cluster of
grapes, a few dates or olives
for an entire orchard could be
sufficient.
There was another contri-
bution — also mentioned in
our sidrah — that the Jew
was obliged to give, that re-
presented a substantial part
of his means. That was
ma'aser (tithe). Ten percent
of one's harvest went to the
Levite, and periodically, ten
percent to the poor. But
ma'aser was given quietly,
without pageantry, fanfare or
testimonials.
Why did the bringing of
the first ripe fruits kindle the
imagination of all, while the
giving of tithes was passed
over without notice?
The answer is in the "tim-
ing" — of learning how to
"put first things first" in life.
Picture the farmer tilling his
land, pruning his tree , light-
ing the fires to protect the or-
chards from the frost. Fi-
nally, after months of anxiety
and toil, he beholds the first
ripe fruit. What joy floods his
heart! How he would like to
taste the fruits of his labor.
But no, the first fruits are

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First Fruits Or Tithes:
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DELICATESSEN PRODUCTS

© 1985 Hebrew National Kosher Foods, Inc.

80

Friday, September 19, 1986 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Morton F. Yolkut is rabbi at
Cong. B'nai David.

not his, they are designated
for the Temple, for God. So
he takes the first fruit and
calls it bikurim. He then
takes the first fruit to
Jerusalem, where special
tribute is paid to him for his
strength of character and de- )
votion to God.
Ma'aser, on the other hand,
was given much later. At the
conclusion of the harvest,

Shabbat Ki Tavo:
Deuteronomy
26:1-29:8; Isaiah
60:1-22

when all of the produce was-.
safely stored in the granaries,
the tithe was first given. Giv-
ing it at so late a date, when
the storehouses are overflow-
ing, does not deserve special
recognition or tribute. Yes, it
is a duty performed in ac-
cordance with the law, but -
nothing more.
The difference between the `---\
bikurim and ma'aser lies in
the fact that with the
bikurim it was not the gift
but the idea behind the gift
that warranted such em-
phasis. It is not always how
much one gives that is cru-
cial, but when and how.
When a Jew devotes his L/
energies and talents to his
people and his religion when
he is in the prime of life, that
is bikurim; but when he
waits for the twilight of life
first to become active in _)
Jewish life, that is ma'aser.
Alas, many adopt this -i-/)
ma'aser-type philosophy early
in life and live altogether in
the future. I will attend serv-
ices •— when I retire. I will
become active in the Jewish
community — when my son - ')
takes over the business. I will
give tzedakah — in my will.
What a clever way to avoid
the responsibilities of today!
Of course retired people
should attend synagogue and
semi-retired people should be
community activists and
people should leave money
for charity in their wills. But
that is no excuse for forfeit-
ing Jewish and human re-
sponsibility today! For there
is one thing wrong with proc-
rastination: who knows if
there will be a future? /m lo
akhshav, ematai, if not now,
when?
This is the importance of
bikurim, not its gift, which
was minute, but its lesson,
which was immense, and was
intended to provide us with a
way to prioritize our lives.
Our ancestors brought their
very first fruits, the best of
their resources, to God as a
symbol of their priorities of
life. Let us today reevaluate
our lives and reestablish the
beautiful lesson of bikurim,
"the first to God and
Judaism." In so doing, we
shall bring meaning to our
lives and blessing to our
people.

(

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