Would you like to hear a riddle? Did your interest just perk up when you read that question? There’s something about riddles that catch our attention. There must be something to it. For some it may be the element of challenge, while for others it may be the element of surprise that lies within the answer.
Often, our sages of blessed memory would speak in what would seem to us as riddles. But, in truth, their puzzling words represented much more. Their statements were intended to be contemplated, and for listeners or readers to consider what underlying message the sages meant to teach us.
Many riddle-like statements are recorded in the Midrash (part of the Oral Torah). One is mentioned in the Midrash in the beginning of the Book of Genesis, but directly correlates to the commandment that is detailed in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Ki Savo.
The portion begins by delineating the commandment of bikurim, the separating of the first fruits. In the days of the Holy Temple, a farmer had to be very vigilant when it came to the growing season of each of the seven species for which the land of Israel is famed – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. As soon as he saw the first produce of any of these species ripen, he would tie a string around it. This would mark it as the first of the produce. When it was fully ripened, he would bring it to the Holy Temple and offer the fruit to the priest, amid much elaborate ceremony.
Now here’s the riddle: The sages, in discussing the creation of the world, stated the following: When the Torah says in its first verse, “In the beginning G-d created,” aside from the simple meaning of the verse, it can also be understood to say, “Because of what is called ‘the beginning’ did G-d create the world. Namely, the commandment of bikurim, the first fruit offering.” In other words, the sages are saying that in the merit of the commandment of bikurim, which is referred to as “the beginning/the first”, did G-d create the world.
If you were to compile a list of commandments whose merit might justify the creation of the world, I don’t think that bikurim would make it to the top ten. You would undoubtedly choose from many other commandments first before you would even consider bikurim! That being said – what is the meaning of this puzzling statement, this riddle, of the sages?
In truth, one of the underlying concepts of the commandment of bikurim is indeed the basis of being a true Jew.
Put yourself in the shoes of a farmer for a moment. Try to picture to yourself how much work went into the production of these fruits. Plowing, tilling the soil, planting the seeds, cutting, threshing, winnowing, etc. By the time the finished product rested in your hand you would have every reason to smile, pat yourself on the back and say, “What a great job I did. Look what I produced!” In truth, however, this statement is a bit out of focus. The reason your hard work produced such a great crop is because G-d willed it. If He had not wanted your toil to come to fruition, it would not have, no matter how hard you worked.
When the farmer brought his first fruit, his bikurim, to the Holy Temple, he was in essence making the following statement: “Instead of keeping the first fruit of my hard work for myself, I am bringing it to the Holy Temple, acknowledging that it all came from G-d’s will.”
When we receive our hard-earned paycheck at the end of a month, we should think to ourselves, “Thank You G-d for allowing me to earn this money, for I know that it all comes from you; and unless You so willed it, none of this would have come to me, no matter how hard I would have worked. G-d, please give me another good month.”
Now our riddle is solved. Now we can understand the puzzling statement of our sages. Indeed, it is logical to say that in the merit of the commandment of bikurim, the commandment that teaches us a fundamental principle of G-d’s omnipotence, did He create the world.
by Rabbi Mayer Erps