Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Don't Forget To Take With The Bikurim

Written by the Rebbe, HaRav Michel Twerski, shlit"a, in 1989/5749
(Turning Pages, pgs. 113-114)

I would suspect no one needs to be reminded that the holiday of Shavuos commemorates the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. A few of us might need to be reminded that Shavuos is also the holiday of "bikurim", which revolves around the agriculture of Israel and the bringing of the first fruits to Jerusalem for presentation to the Kohanim in the Bais Hamikdosh. According to the Talmudic descriptions of the merriment surrounding the transporting and offering of the bikurim, Shavuos was one of the most festive and celebratory events of the Jewish religious calendar. A word on the significance of this unique joy will hopefully enable all of us to better prepare for the forthcoming Shavuos holiday.

For openers, we should note that these choice first fruits of the land were not put on the altar to be consumed by its holy fires. Instead, the fruits were given to the Kohanim, the officiants of the Temple to be enjoyed by them. In addition, the polarity of the holiday demands scrutiny. On the one hand, we have the theme of Torah and its lofty spiritual expectations, and on the other hand, the preoccupation with food, the choice fresh fruits and grains of bikurim, and the indulgence of the physical senses and pleasures. How do we reconcile these seeming antithetical objectives?

Let's pause here for a moment to reflect on our capacities to enjoy the individual blessings of life. A quick glance at ourselves and others reveals that material success and good fortune isn't all its cracked up to be. Too often, those who appear to have all of the answers, have more questions than answers, more problems than solutions. Our Sages say it very succinctly, "Marbeh nechosim marbeh dagah," – the more one has, the more there is to worry about. It seems that affluence and power generate a whole family of potential problems. How do we protect our riches? How do our material fortunes shape and change our attitudes, our goals, the values of our children, our personal needs, appetites and dependencies? Wherever we look, lives are tarnished, troubled and insecure. We feel our happiness compromised by children who are confused and depressed by marriages which are rocketing toward failure, by a litany of physical symptoms which include stomach ulcers, hypertension and the ravages of stress. We can’t sleep or relax. We find it find it increasingly difficult to laugh wholeheartedly and to experience enduring joy. In short, it's hard to enjoy life.

It’s incontrovertibly clear that, in order to experience peace of mind, we must first free ourselves of from the myriad worries that confound the felicity of so many. The convergence of Torah and bikurim on Shavuos, the coalescence of the transcendent/spiritual with the finite/profane, comes to underscore the principle that we can only be free to delight in the physical when we have put our ethical and moral house in order. Commitment to Torah ideals, the setting of priorities, and the active expression of these ideals and priorities in living color, are prerequisites to liberation from the multiple curses of materialism. To bear witness to this fact, our ancestors made a Shavuos pilgrimage to Jerusalem to present the Kohanim, the servants of Hashem, with their bikurim - bikurim for the personal enjoyment of the priestly tribe, as though to say, it is they more than anyone else who can truly take pleasure in the fundamental blessings of life. Perhaps, when our Chazal teach us that, "Ein ben chorin, ellah mee she'osiak baTorah” – “There is no genuinely free person other than he who is immersed in Torah,” what they are really trying to tell us is that the only authentically liberated person, that is free to partake wholeheartedly and happily in the delights of the world, is the person for whom Torah is the consuming passion of life.

From this perspective, the polarity of the holiday can be appreciated as two facets of the same gem. The spiritual and corporeal blend to enhance and enrich the beauty of one another, to unite and synthesize, rather than divide and confuse.

It would represent real progress if this Shavuos we could journey to the Jerusalem within each of us to find the Kohain within each of us, to present our personal bikurim in a context of deepened commitment to Torah. It would be fun to laugh again, to restore the sparkle to our frightened, weary lives. So, don't forget to celebrate "Mattan Torah" this year, and don't forget to bring along the bikurim.

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