Some of you may know that I have a fig tree in my backyard. In fact, I wrote about it in one of these emails, over two years ago.
Anyway, it’s harvest time! The dark purple figs are practically jumping off the tree, so I’ve been out there with my kids and a ladder, harvesting the delicate beauties. My three-year-old son Shmuel was running around with a basket to collect the harvest, and even posed for a picture.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the mitzvah (commandment) of bringing the first and best fruits of the harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem, which appears in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo. This mitzvah is known as Bikkurim.
Since the Temple is not currently standing, we no longer perform this mitzvah. However, the lessons and spiritual ramifications are still pertinent.
Allow me to guide you through a passage in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. Ready?
Maimonides states: “The first fruits must be brought [to the Temple] in a container, as the verse states (Deut. 26:11), ‘And you shall place them in a container.'”
Who gets the fruits? The Kohanim (Priests) who serve in the Temple.
Typically speaking, when you give someone a gift, you wrap it, or give it some type of packaging. A nice bag, box, or other container is typically used for gift giving. The packaging serves both to enhance the appearance of the gift (like a picture frame), as well as a practical means to hold and transport it. The Bikkurim were usually placed into a wicker basket for presentation to the Kohen in the Temple.
When someone would bring the best of their first harvest to the Temple, he would hand the basket to the Kohen, fruits inside. Who keeps the basket? Can the donor perhaps keep it, in order to use it again for a future gift?
The Kohen would keep not only the fruits, but also the wicker basket.
Bottom line: The basket stays with the fruits.
As I mentioned, although we are not currently able to perform this mitzvah, the lessons and message are still applicable. What is the lesson of Bikkurim?
It is written in the Zohar (III 253a) that our people are likened to the first fruits. Not just any fruit, but figs, as in the verse (Hosea 9:10), “I saw your forefathers like a ripe fig on a fig tree.”
Each of us is a composite of two parts: Body and Soul.
Body without soul is, well, dead, while soul without body is not particularly useful. In order for something productive to happen, the body must contain the soul. Much like the wicker basket stays with the Bikkurim fruits when brought to the Temple, so too, the ultimate purpose of the soul is not to remain in some lofty and a spiritual Garden of Eden, but to be contained within a physical body.
Judaism is not about some “spiritual high,” divorcing oneself from the material world. The exact opposite is the case! Real Jewish spirituality means that the fruits are in the basket; a soul in a body is enabled to perform the commandments and acts of kindness.
The fruits are brought in a basket, and that basket remains with the fruit. In mystical terms, this means that our ultimate purpose is fulfilled when our soul is connected with our body. It is specifically through working in and with our body and the material world, that we will actualize our potential.
May we all be blessed with a fruitful New Year!