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September 15, 1989 - Image 47

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-15

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attitude that the world owes
me something will change.
I'm grateful for what I have,
and not embittered by what I
lack. By looking at the world
as a gift and not as a right, I
Taking this a step further,
when we realize that every-
thing we possess, even life
itself, is a gift, it's easier to
give up things when and if
that becomes necessary. I've
written in the past about
"grasping the world with
open arms." Why open? To be
ready, if necessary, to let go.
If we grab the world with clos-
ed arms, and our limbs have
atrophied, the letting-go pro-
cess may prove unbearably
painful. In the end, we all let
go. But some do it gently, and
others gasp in pain, grasping
to the end.
Bringing the first fruits
kept alive our commitment to
the land as an eternal gift
from God; it taught us not to
be prideful, but perhaps most
important, it taught a simple,
inescapable truth — all that
we have, all that we are, is a
gift from God which in the
end we must return to God.
Also, we should not think
that bringing the first fruits
was a burden on the people.
On the contrary, it was a
joyous event. We find richly
described details in chapter
three of Mishna Bikkurim.
The farmers from the
smaller towns, bringing with
them the first grapes and figs,
would gather and spend the
night in the open area of the
town from where the
maamad (delegation) would
be sent forth. Before them
went an ox, its horns entwin-
ed with gold and wreaths of
olive-branches and leaves on
its head, and an accompany-
ing flute played until the
farmers began to draw near to
Jerusalem, and the most im-
portant Jerusalemites came
out to greet them.
We moderns, accustomed to
the miracles of refrigeration,
tend to look at the vast array
of produce available all year
round as a simple fact of life.
In the process, we lose
cognizance of how the farmers
of Israel must have felt with
the spontaneous appearance
of the first fruits, the vines
laden with grapes, the ripen-
ing figs, the pomegranates
blooming from the recent
buds. It was a miracle, an
auspicious moment for the
farmer, and his joy was
boundless, contagious. They
came to Jerusalem, like

heroes from the wars, flute
music in the air, a far cry
from a convention of
After arriving at the Tem-
ple, those bringing the fruit
baskets would read a selec-
tion of verses from this week's
portion, beginning with "A
wanderer was my father . . ."
(26:5) and ending with, "And
now behold I have brought
the first fruit of the land that
God has given me . . ." (26:10)
the verses in between re-
counting briefly the journey
from Egypt to this very mo-
ment in the Temple, the bless-
ed fruits about to be set down.
The significance of the bik-
kurim ceremony in Israel's
history helps us understand
why the verses the farmer
was commanded to recite
when he arrived at the Tem-
ple became part of the
Passover Haggadah. Both the
farmer and the seder partici-
pant are bidden to remember
Egypt. If a slave, suffering in
the hot sun, mixing mortar
and brick, and hauling it day
in and day out, could dream
an auspicious and audacious
dream for himself or his
descendants, he would have
dreamt of fertile soil and rich
crops, sitting in the shade of
his own fig tree, tasting the
sweetness of his own
pomegranate juice — the ex-
act opposite of his daily reali-
ty. And didn't this dream
come true, evidenced by the
first-fruit ceremony, and the
acknowledgement of the
farmer to his ancestor in
Egypt? And on the seder
night, illustrated in part by
the verses from the ceremony
of the first-fruits, we reinforce
the transformation of a slave
on foreign soil to a farmer on
his own land, harvesting the
treasured seven species.
But even more, the chant-
ing of this verse from the first-
fruit ceremony in the Hag-
gadah, this gift from God,
calls to mind the other gift
from God sitting with us at
the table. The seder theme of
slavery into freedom is
augmented by the theme of
how this knowledge is passed
on. The form of the seder is
really a dialogue, first a
historic one between a remote
past and an immediate pre-
sent, but also a dialogue be-
tween the generations at the
table. On this night we
reenact the process of Jewish
survival, signified by the
abundance of key moments
children share in the Seder.
Just as we learned from the


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