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פ׳ שלח

והימים יםי בכורי ענבים

And it was the season when the first grapes begin to ripen.1



This week, we read Parshat Shelach Lecha: the story of the 12 spies - known in our tradition as the meraglim - who were sent to scout out the land of Israel in preparation for the Jews who were then in the desert to come and take possession of it. Despite the fact that these were righteous men, leaders among the people, they came to sin, with tragic results.


Based on the possuk quoted above, the Arizal says that the mitzva of bikurim is a tikun for the chet hameraglim.

R' Menachem Zemba expands upon this. The Torah2 says that the meraglim took "one cluster of grapes .. and of the pomegranates and of the figs". The Gemara3 says that 8 men carried a cluster of grapes, one carried a single fig, and one carried a pomegranate - the fruits were that large. But - there are seven types of produce that are special to the land - why not take dates, or olives, or wheat, or barley?!

The mishna states:


כיצד מפרישין את הביכורים: יורד אדם לתוך שדהו, ורואה תאנה שביכרה, אשכול שביכר, רימון שביכר; וקושרן בגמי ואומר, הרי אלו ביכורים.

How does one take Bikurim? He goes into his field and he sees (for example) a fig ripening, a cluster of grapes ripening, a pomegranate ripening, and he ties a gemi around them and declares: "these are bikurim".4


R' Zemba points out that, again, this list is limited to those very same fruits that the Torah tells us the spies brought back! Clearly, Rabeinu HaKadosh was underscoring this lesson - that there is a unique connection between bikurim and the meraglim, and that bikurim is actually an atonement for the sin of the meraglim.


What is the deeper connection between the meraglim and bikurim?


First we have to understand: what exactly was the nature of the sin of the spies, and what was their motivation?
  • The Torah says5, וַיֹּצִיאוּ דִּבַּת הָאָרֶץ - they spoke badly of the land. [Note: Rashi comments, if they were punished so severly for speaking poorly of an inanimate object, how much more must we be wary of speaking badly of other people, who have feelings that can be hurt.]


  • They lacked hakaras ha-tov - recognition of the good that Hashem did for them. They said6 אֶרֶץ אֹכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ הִוא - "it is a land that consumes it inhabitants". Rashi quotes the Gemara7 that Hashem caused people living there to die at this time, so the others would be so preoccupied with funerals they would not take notice of the meraglim.


  • The Ramban and others say that their sin was a lack emuna - not trusting in God to enable them to defeat their enemies. Even more - the Midrash says they were guilty of kefira, based on the verse8 כִּי-חָזָק הוּא, מִמֶּנּוּ - says the Midrash, al tikra mimenu ela mimeno. (Also, see the Baal HaTurim to that possuk.) They even said, "let us appoint [new] leaders and return to mitzrayim".


  • The people's reaction was to cry. Chazal tell us that because of this reaction, that day - Tisha B'Av - became our national day of mourning, especially for the destruction of the Beis haMikdash and our exile from the land.


  • Some meforshim say that the meraglim (or perhaps the people themselves) were afraid that after the experience of life in the midbar - with the mahn falling daily, and direct prophecy from Hashem, and Moshe as their teacher, with no distractions from learning - that coming into Eretz Yisrael and living there with the change of lifestyle that would entail would be a spiritual let-down. Clearly it is much harder to appreciate God's day-to-day presence and guidance when working the fields and struggling with the day-to-day.

Bikurim really addresses all of those shortcomings.

It is one of the handful of mitzvos which include speech as an intrinsic part of the mitzva. Perhaps one could say that this speech is to counterbalance the evil speech of the meraglim.

One aspect of bikurim that many commentators note, is that it is a concrete expression not only of hakaras ha-tov - of thanksgiving - but also of showing that the farmers realized that everything comes from Hashem. After all of the farmer's hard work and effort, the first fruits of the season could easily be a time to say, "Yes! Look what I have done!" It is these very first fruits that the farmer bring up to Yerushalayim and expresses his recognition that everything really comes from Hashem. One can easily see how this is a direct tikkun for the lack of emuna and the fears of lack of recognition of God's Hand mentioned above.

Further, the verses of Parshat Bikurim explicitly reject the notions of idolatry and the Egypt mentality.9 אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה .. וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ ה׳, מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל--וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt .. And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders.

The last verse of Parshat Bikurim says10, וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל-הַטּוֹב" - and you shall be happy (rejoice) in all the good [that Hashem has given you ..]". The Mishnayos describe in great detail the fanfare and celebration that surrounded the bringing of the Bikkurim. This is a clear contrast to the sadness and crying that followed the report of the meraglim.

So, be happy with what Hashem has given us - especially with the land of Israel - "for it is exceedingly good"11 - and this will help to counteract the sin of the meraglim and help to bring about the redemption speedily, in our days.


Shabbat shalom.


1 במדבר יג:כ - (Bamidbar 13:20)
2ibid 13:23
3Sotah 34a
4Bikurim 3:1
5Bamidbar 13:22
6ibid
3Sotah 35a
8Bamidbar 13:21
9Devarim 26:5,8
10ibid 26:11
11Bamidbar 14:7

Posted by joem on Jun 20, 2008 12:00 pm

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