Parashat Ki Tavo
Devarim 26:1 It shall come to pass: when you come to the land which Hashem, your G-d, gives you as an inheritance, you shall occupy it and settle in it.
This portion describes the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim, the first fruits, to the Temple in Yerushalayim. It is significant that this is discussed right after the command to eradicate Amalek.
By bringing bikkurim, we acknowledge our appreciation and thanks to G-d for giving us Eretz Yisrael, and allowing us to benefit from its produce. Amalek, in contrast, represents the antithesis - a denial of G-d's beneficence.
The Sages explained that Amalek attacked the Jewish people because they had not acknowledged G-d's kindness to them: "After these words, Amalek came and attacked Yisrael" (Shemot 17:8).
What words brought Amalek's attack? The complaints of the people mentioned in the previous verses. hen the were thirsty, they protested to Moshe: "Why did you bring us out of Egypt?" Rather than show gratitude for G-d's miracles, they complained.
The Amalekim, themselves, also ignored G-d's kindness. Amalek was descended from Avraham (through 'Esav, see Bereishit 36:15), and should have also suffered the divine decree of (Bereishit 15:13): "and they shall afflict them for four hundred years." Nevertheless, Yisrael bore the burden of that sentence alone.
When Yisrael ended its years of Egyptian slavery and began to journey to Eretz Yisrael, Amalek was the first nation they encountered. Did Amalek greet the Jews with warmth and kindness? Did they show any appreciation for the favor Yisrael had rendered them? None at all!
Therefore, G-d said: "Let Amalek, who does not know how to show appreciation, be the vehicle of retribution for Yisrael, which also does not know how to show appreciation."
This is implied in v25:17: "Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt." We must be conscious of the ingratitude displayed by Amalek, when it attacked the Jewish people, and the ingratitude shown by the Jewish people in falling to acknowledge G-d's kindness when He took them out of Egypt.
The phrase, "you shall occupy it and settle within," implies a specific perioid of time. It took the Jews seven years to conquer Yisrael and seven years to divide it among the people. The Jews were not obligated to bring bikkurim until this period was completed.
Our Sages explain that every time the Torah states, "when you come to the land," it refers to this fourteen year period (Kiddushin 37b).
Here we see now important the unity of the Jewish people is. Even though many individuals and even whole tribes were "settled" in their respective properties in Eretz Yisrael, they could not bring bikkurim until their fellow Jews had reached a similar state. A Jew cannot feel at home and settled until evey one of his fellow Jews has also been able to establish his own household.
Even though the Jews were not required to being bikkurim until later, their acceptance of this mitzvah was significant for the immediate future. G-d told them: "Accept this commandment. By its merit, you will enter the land" (Sifri)
Ibn Ezra explains that "when you come to the land" was used to contrast this command with the charge to destroy Amalek, mentioned in the previous verse. The obligation to destroy Amalek does not apply until "G-d gives you peace from the enemies..." In contrast, bikkurim must be brought before Yisrael reaches the state of peace. "It shall come to pass" refers to a state of joy. There is no greater happiness than the settlement of Eretz Yisrael (Or HaChayim).
Devarim 26:2: Take from the first of every fruit of the earth that you will bring from the land which Adonai your God, gives you. Place it in a basket and go to the place which God will choose for His Name to dwell.
Sifrei establishes an analogy between this verse and Devarim 8:8, which praises the Land of Yisrael as possessing seven species of produce: wheat, barley, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Bikkurim were brought only from these seven species.
As soon as fruit began to ripen, farmers went out to
their fields and tied a reed around the first fruit to ripen. From that time on,
the fruit was considered bikkurim and could not be used for mundane purposes.
"From the fruit" implies that a selection was made. Only the choice fruits were taken as bikkurim (Rabbenu Bachya).
See how dedicated the Jewish people are! After a farmer
worked and labored for months to raise a crop, it would have been natural for
him to wish to taste the fruits of his labor. Yet what did he do with his first
and best fruit? He brought them as offerings to G-d.
We were not allowed to bring bikkurim at any time of the year. "Fruit of the earth" implies that Bikkurim could not be brought until the fruits were commonly found on the face of the earth: only after Shavuot. (Accordingly, that holiday is sometimes called the 'festival of bikkurim'.)
V26:11 commands, "And you shall rejoice in all the good." Thus, bikkurim should be associated with the harvest season, a time of rejoicing. Although bikkurim may be brought until Chanukah, the offering is less acceptable after Sukkot, which marks the conclusion of the harvest season.
Bikkurim were only brought from the land which Hashem your G-d, gives you," from the Land of Yisrael. (Chullin 136a)
In Hebrew, this entire passage is casted in the second person. Thus, it is as if the Torah addresses each individual personally. Noting this, Rabbenu Bachya comments that an agent should not be charged with performing this mitzvah. Rather, each person should bring his own bikkurim. (Bikkurim 1:5)
The "basket" implies that bikkurim must be brought in a receptacle. Bikkurim 3:8 relates that fruit was generally brought in baskets made of willow branches after the bark had been removed. The rich brought their offerings in containers of gold and silver. (Sifri)
"The site which God will choose" refers to the Sanctuary of Shilo and the Temple in Yerushalayim.
After the fourteen-year period during which the Jews conquered and divided the Land of Yisrael, Yehoshua brought the Ark to Shilo and constructed a Sanctuary there. During the 369 years the Sanctuary of Shilo stood, sacrifices were not allowed to be offered in other places.
After Shilo was destroyed, the Ark was taken to Nov and then to Giv'on. These sites were not as holy as Shilo and did not serve as a centralized location for G-d's service. For 57 years, sacrifices could be offered throughout the Land of Yisrael, and there was no obligation to bring bikkurim to these sites.
Once the Temple was built in Yerushalayim, it was forbidden to offer sacrifices or to build a sanctuary in any other place. License for these practices was not and never will be granted again. Hence, that is the only place where we will be able to bring bikkurim.
Mishneh Torah Hilchot Bikkurim (4:16-17) describes the process of bringing bikkurim:
[The inhabitants of the smaller villages gathered in a central town so as not to journey to Yerushalayim individually, for it is written (Mishlei 14:28) "the multitude of the people is the glory of the King."
They slept in the streets...to avoid contracting ritual impurity...
At dawn, the leader called out: "Arise, let us go up to Tziyon, to Hashem, our G-d."
An ox walked before them. Its horns were plated with gold and an olive wreath was placed on its head to show that bikkurim are brought only from the seven species of fruit for which the Land of Yisrael is praised].
A flute was sounded before them until they approached Yerushalayim. Throughout the journey, they recited, "I rejoiced when they said to me 'Let us go to the House of G-d'" (Tehillim 132:1) They only journeyed for two thirds of the day.
When they approached Yerushalayim... they prepared and adorned their bikkurim. If they had both fresh and dried fruit, they placed the fresh fruit on top...
The inhabitants of Yerushalayim went out to greet them... When they entered the gates of Yerushalayim, they declared "Our feet were standing within your gates, 0 Yerushalayim" (Tehillim 132:2)
All the artisans of Yerushalayim stood in their honor and greeted them: "Our brothers, inhabitants of such-and-such, come in peace."
They proceeded through Yerushalayim accompanied by flute-playing until they reached the Temple Mount.
There, they lifted their baskets to their shoulders and recited Tehillim 150: "Praised be G-d. Praised be G-d in His holiness... May all souls praise G-d. Praised be G-d."
They walked to the Temple Courtyard. The Leviim sang: "I will exalt You, 0 G-d, for You have lifted me up..." (Tehillim 30)
Devarim 26:3: You shall go to the kohen [officiating] at that time and say to him, "Today I am affirming to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the land G-d swore to our fathers to give us.
Each individual approached a kohen while carrying the bikkurim on his shoulder and made the declaration (ibid. 3:12). Rashi interprets the command to go "to the priest officiating at that time" as a directive against comparing the Temple servants of one's generation with those who served previously. While kohanim of previous generations may have been more righteous, we must accept the kohanim as they are and bring our offerings to them.
RaMBaN explains that this phrase teaches that bikkurim are given to members of the priestly watch officiating at that time. Twenty-four priestly watches served in the Temple, and they were rotated weekly. Each watch was entitled to the bikkurim brought during its week of service.
Kiddushin 66b derives a halachic point from this phrase. Even if the kohen only serves "at that time" and is later disqualified from future service, the bikkurim given to him are valid and need not be brought a second time.
A convert should bring bikkurim. Nevertheless, he does not make the declaration mentioned by our verse because he cannot praise G-d for giving him "the land G-d swore to our fathers to give us" (Bikkurim 1:4).
This opinion is not universally accepted. The Jerusalem Talmud comments: Converts may make the declaration. They are spiritual descendants of Avraham, to whom the Land of Yisrael was promised.
The affirmation is made "today;" only once a year. One may not bring bikkurim a second time (Sifri, Rashi).
The affirmation is made verbally, in order to further emphasize our appreciation to G-d for giving us the Land of Yisrael and allowing us to prosper there (Sifri, Rashi).
Devarim 26:4: The kohen shall take the basket from your hand and place it before the Altar of Hashem, you G-d.
The kohen placed his hand beneath the owner's and waved
the fruit. Peace offerings followed the same ritual.
The kohen "took" the basket. Even if the bikkurim became ritually impure and could not be eaten, the basket remained the property of the kohen (Jerusalem Talmud, Bikkurim 1:7).
This view is not accepted by all authorities. Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Bikkurim 3:8 explains that if the bikkurim were not acceptable, the baskets had to be returned to their owners.
The kohanim were given only the wooden baskets brought by the common people. The gold and silver containers used by the rich were returned to their owners (Bikkurim 3:8).
The simple baskets had no importance of their own. Therefore, they became the kohen's property together with the fruit. In contrast, the metal containers had intrinsic value. Hence, they were considered independent entities, and their ownership did not depend on the bikkurim.
Bava Kama 92b exclaims: "See how poverty pursues the poor." Because the rich were able to afford an expensive container, it remained theirs. On the other hand, a poor man, who could only afford a common basket, was forced to give it to the kohanim.
The bikkurim were to be placed "before the Altar." This term refers to the Altar's southern side. The kohanim approached the Altar from the ramp located there.
V10 states that the bikkurim should be placed "before G-d." That phrase indicates the western side of the Altar, closest to the Temple building. To satisfy both verses, the bikkurim were placed at the Altar's southwestern corner.
Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno explains that the bikkurim were placed before the Altar to emphasize that they were offerings to G-d. Since they later became the private property of the kohanim and could be exchanged for other goods, this step was necessary to emphasize their sacred nature.
Devarim 26:5: You shall then respond and make the following declaration: An Aramean sought to destroy my father. He went down to Egypt with a small number of people and lived there as an immigrant. There he became a great, powerful, and populous nation.
Mishneh Torah Hilchot
Bikkurim (3:12) explains that the declaration was
made while waving the fruit.
Sefer HaMitzvot (positive mitzvah 132), and Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 606) both consider the mitzvah of making the declaration as distinct from the mitzvah of bringing the bikkurim.
The declaration was recited in Hebrew, quoting these verses exactly.
Originally, those who were literate read the
declaration themselves, and the kohanim read for the illiterate, who repeated it
after them. However, the common people were embarrassed when their lack of
knowledge was exposed, and they stopped bringing bikkurim. To encourage them,
the Sages ordained that everyone was to recite the verses after the kohanim.
They supported this change with the reference that one shall "respond and make
the declaration." (Jerusalem Talmud, Bikkurim 3:4)
The declaration quoted in this and the following verses forms the body of the Passover Haggadah. Bikkurim and the Seder express thanks to G-d for His kindness in redeeming us from bondage and granting us the Land of Yisrael. Therefore, the same text is used.
Our translation of "Arami Oved Avi" follows Rashi and Targum Onkelos, who explain that "an Aramean" refers to Lavan, who pursued Yaakov in order to destroy him. (see Bereishit 31)
"Oved" literally means "destroyed." Midrash Tehillim 30 explains that a Gentile is judged according to his thoughts. G-d considers his very desire to sin as if he has already performed the transgression. Hence, Lavan is considered as if he fulfilled his wicked desires even though G-d prevented him from carrying them out.
Ibn Ezra and Rabbenu Bachya explain that the "Aramean" is Yaakov. He could be referred to in this manner because Avraham's origins lay in Aram. In this context, "oved" means "poor" as in "Give a reward to the poor" (Mishlei 31:6)
Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno also considers Yaakov as the "Aramean," but interprets him as "homeless." Yaakov's downtrodden circumstances when he entered Egypt clearly demonstrate that G-d's providence alone made Yisrael a nation.
Israel "became a great nation" while in Egypt. The Jews did not change their dress, language, or names. They remained distinguished from the Egyptians.
Devarim 26:6-8 The Egyptians were cruel to us. They made us suffer and imposed harsh slavery upon us. We cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our ancestors. G-d heard our voice. He saw our suffering, our harsh labor, and our distress. G-d brought us from Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great visions, signs, and miracles.
In three brief verses the Torah recounts the epoch of slavery and redemption from Egypt. The Egyptians "were cruel" to the Jews and prevented them from engaging in normal family relations. The Egyptians enslaved them and "made them suffer."
In response, the Jews lifted up their voices, "the voice is the voice of Yaakov." Throughout our national history, heartfelt prayer has been the most common and the most effective means with which our people have responded to hardship.
G-d responded. He took us out of Egypt with great miracles. The redemption from Egypt stands out as a foundation and strong pillar of... faith. Throughout the generations, the redemption from Egypt has provided us with an example of how G-d controls the forces of nature and intervenes in their functioning for the sake of His chosen people.
The translation of "morah gadol" as "with great visions" follows both Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonatan. Abarbanel renders it as "terror."
Devarim 26:9 He brought us to this place, giving us this land, flowing with milk and honey.
"This place" refers to the Temple; "this land," to
Eretz Yisrael (Sifri, Rashi).
By virtue of our coming to the Temple, G-d gave us Eretz Yisrael (Sifri).
The description of Eretz Yisrael as a "land flowing with milk and honey" is Halachically significant. That term excludes Trans-Jordan, which was not an agricultural area. There is no Biblical obligation to bring bikkurim from there (Jerusalem Talmud, Bikkurim 1:8).
Devarim 26:10 I am now bringing the first fruit of the land that G-d has given me. [Having made that declaration,] you shall set the basket down before G-d. [Then] you shall bow down before Hashem, your G-d.
Bikkurim were the "first fruits." As soon as a farmer's produce began to ripen, he selected his bikkurim. Even if they were not ready to be eaten, they were designated as holy and could no longer be used for other purposes.
The declaration emphasizes how each individual thanks
G-d for "the fruit of the land God gave me." Anyone who does not own land cannot
make such a statement and brings bikkurim without reciting this declaration of
The following individuals are restricted by this principle:
a) a person who has purchased trees without purchasing the field in which they are planted (Bava Batra 81a)
b) a person acting as an agent or a servant bringing bikkurim for a landowner
c) a guardian of orphans who brings bikkurim on their behalf
d) a woman for Eretz Yisrael was divided only among the men (Sifri)
Rashi (based on
Sifri) explains that after
the declaration, the fruit was lifted up, waved a second time, and placed down
before the Altar. Afterwards, the person bringing the bikkurim bowed before G-d
in the Temple courtyard.
Devarim 26:11 Thus, you shall rejoice with all the good which Hashem, your G-d, has granted you and your family. [Together with] you shall be the Leviim and the converts.
The time of bikkurim between Shavuot and Sukkot is full
of rejoicing and happiness.
The rejoicing that accompanied the bringing of bikkurim was expressed in Tehillim chanted by the Leviim when the bikkurim were brought to the Temple courtyard.
The peace offerings (shelamim) which were brought with the bikkurim further emphasized the festive atmosphere of this occasion. This practice was derived by comparison with other festivals during which the Torah also commands us to rejoice (see Devarim 16:14). In that context, our Sages explained that "rejoicing" means partaking of the peace offerings. Hence, similar sacrifices were also required for bikkurim.
A further point is derived from this comparison to the festivals. The festive pilgrims were required to wait until the day after bringing sacrifices before departing from Yerushalayim. Similarly, anyone who brought bikkurim had to spend the day in Yerushalayim. He began his journey home the next day.
Thus, bringing bikkurim involves seven elements:
a) taking them to the Temple
b) bringing them in a container
c) reciting the declaration stated above
d) sacrificing a peace offering
e) chanting Tehillim by the Leviim
f) being waved as a peace offering is waved (tenufah)
g) remaining in Yerushalayim until the following morning.
(Mishneh Torah Hilchot Bikkurim 3:12-14)
Our verse mentions Leviim and converts for two reasons:
Firstly, it tells us to share with them. When we celebrate and rejoice, we should remember the less fortunate among us.
Secondly, according to certain opinions, it obligates them to bring bikkurim.
One might think that converts would be free of this obligation because they were not given an inheritance in Eretz Yisrael. This verse teaches that every convert is a spiritual descendant of Avraham, to whom Eretz Yisrael was promised. Hence, they can also make the declaration accompanying the offering.
Leviim are obligated to bring bikkurim because the 48 cities given to them can also be described as "the land G-d has given me" (Mishneh Torah Hilchot Bikkurim 4:3).
After the Jews concluded this declaration, a heavenly voice responded: "May you continue to bring bikkurim in the year to come" (Midrash Tanchumah).