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Title: Bikkurim

Major Focus: Shavuot

Minor Focus: Tithes

Abstract: Where should the Israelite farmers bring the Bikkurim (first fruits)? How much should they bring?

Format: Rabbinic Argument

"When you enter the land that God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where God will choose to establish the Sanctuary."

Deuteronomy 26:1-2

    Where should the farmer bring his Bikkurim (first fruits)? How much should he bring?

  1. Sifrei: After entering the land, the Ark of the Covenant was kept at Gilgal for fourteen years, then at Shiloh for 369 years, until the Philistines captured it. After that, central worship continued at Nob and Gibeon for fifty-seven years until David brought the Ark to Jerusalem and his son Solomon built the Temple. The farmers could only bring their Bikkurim to those places, even though there were some local places of worship during the period of Nob and Gibeon.
    1. What does the location of the Ark have to do with the question, where should the farmer bring his first fruits, his Bikkurim?
    2. Why was it so important to God that worship be centralized after entering the land?

  2. Ramban: I agree. The Bikkurim certainly could not be taken to any private altars, but I think only Shiloh and the Temple in Jerusalem were used. It is possible that Bikkurim could have been taken to Nob and Gibeon, but I doubt it, because the Sanctuary in those places was only made from parts of the portable Tabernacle of the wilderness, it wasn't a "real" Sanctuary made of stone like the ones at Shiloh or Jerusalem. As to how much the farmer was supposed to bring, I don't think there was any minimum. He could bring the whole field if he wanted!
    1. What difference does it make if there were periods in Biblical history when the Tabernacle was not as permanent or complete as others? Why would that limit its use? Did Ramban have an "edifice complex"?
    2. Check the Text and see if you can determine how much or how little the farmer was supposed to bring as an offering of first fruits.

  3. Hullin 137b: That can't be true. After all, we have decided how much the farmer should bring for the grain offerings of Terumah and Masser: A generous farmer should bring 1/40th of his crop; a conservative farmer should bring 1/50th, and a stinker need only bring 1/60th of the crop. However, for first fruits, everyone is required to bring 1/60th no matter what.
    1. Considering that the tithes and offerings were a form of taxation, should it be up to the individual to decide how much or how little they are going to contribute?
    2. How would you react to a voluntary taxation system, provided you knew the nation as a whole had to raise enough for all the things a government needs to support, including the poor?

  4. Peah 1,1: Not so! The Torah makes no mention of how much we should leave in the fields for poor people, how much to bring for the three Festivals in Jerusalem, how much hospitality to extend, or how much to study Torah. The Torah makes no mention of how much Bikkurim to bring either! More is better, except in the case of outright charity where, if you give more than 20%, you will be poor yourself.
    1. Why did the Rabbis put a limit on charitable giving? What if giving in excess of 20% did not make a person poor? Are there any other reasons to limit the extent of charitable gifts?
    2. What might be the negative effects of telling people how much to leave for the poor or bring as a thanksgiving offering?

  5. Bikkurim 3: When the first fruits begin to appear in the fields, one should walk among the crop and tie a ribbon on anything meant for Bikkurim. One can give the whole field if one wants. If the Bikkurim pledge is lost or stolen, one must replace it. When one brings Bikkurim to Jerusalem, one must make a peace offering, sing songs with the Leviim at the Temple, give the priest the basket for a waving, and stay overnight.

    The priests will help the farmers say the blessing, even if they don't know it. In fact, the priests will help everyone say the blessing, so no one is embarrassed by not being learned. If one doesn't do all these things, one has not enjoyed the Bikkurim enough. One has not fulfilled the commandment.

    1. Does the ritualized and ceremonial aspect of offering first fruits really enhance the joy one should feel in fulfilling this mitzvah? Wouldn't it be better to offer thanksgiving spontaneously?
    2. Why do you think the Rabbis ruled the farmer must stay at least one night in Jerusalem before going home?

  6. Menachot 84b: It is only theoretical that one can bring whatever one wants. Actually, we have ruled that only the seven species of fruit which the Torah mentions as part of the richness of the land can be brought. Check your Rashi -- he agrees!
    1. Can you name the seven species of fruit mentioned in the Bible as characteristic of Israel?
    2. Have you ever eaten fruit from Israel? Is it any different from that of California or South America?

  7. Hirsch: Rabbis, stop arguing! Let's concentrate on the joy of this mitzvah. After all, the mitzvah lasted all summer long, from Shavuot until Sukkot. Each and every year, the farmers had the privilege of going up to Jerusalem to give their Bikkurim. Each year they could go up and say, "Just as You gave this wonderful land to my ancestors, You have given it to me." From the moment the farmers took possession of the land, and brought forth produce from it, they were required to do this. Each generation joyfully says "Thank you!" again.
    1. Do great rabbis really argue with one another, or just have heated discussions as part of playing "Torah Sports"?
    2. Do you find the summer months a more favorable time for feeling thanksgiving to God?