When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name… — Deuteronomy 26:1–2
The Torah portion for this week is Naso, from Numbers 4:21–7:89, along with special Torah readings for Shavuot, Exodus 19:1–20:23 and Deuteronomy 14:22–16:17.
A major part of the Shavuot festivities is missing today. In Temple times, the highlight of the holiday was the bringing of the “first fruits” as an offering to God. You see, Shavuot initially was an agricultural festival that took place as fruits begin to appear on trees each spring. The Israelites were commanded to designate their first fruits as gifts to God. On Shavuot, these gifts were brought to the Temple in a grand celebration.
While we can no longer partake in this commandment, we can still learn the lessons behind the actions. The ceremony of the bringing of the first fruits is an object lesson in gratitude.
The whole practice is based in thanksgiving. The Israelites would recognize that God gave them the land of Israel and, as a token of gratitude, give back from the fruit of the land. They would say: “He brought us to this place . . . and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, LORD, have given me” (Deuteronomy 26:9-10).
However, the verses read during the ceremony began with a much earlier point in history: “My father was a wandering Aramean . . .” (Deuteronomy 26:5), a reference to Jacob. The verses begin with Jacob, continue with the Exodus, and end with the entry into Israel.
Is it really necessary to go back that far in history? Wouldn’t it have been enough to state that God brought the Israelites to Israel and for that we give thanks?
This reminds me of a story told about a rabbi who obviously didn’t go to coffee shops much, but when he did, he was startled at the price for a simple cup of coffee. He asked the waitress, “Don’t you think that’s a little much to pay for a cup of coffee?” The woman explained: “You aren’t just paying for the coffee. You are paying for the tables and chairs, the music and the atmosphere. You are paying for it all.”
The rabbi understood – and not just about the coffee. The rabbi understood that when we are thankful to God, it has to be “for it all.” It has to be for our past, our present, and our future. It has to be for all we have and everything that had to happen to make it all possible. This is why the first fruits ceremony went way back in history. When we thank God, we have to go far and deep to truly appreciate all He has given us.
Try this: Think about something you are grateful for, and then go deeper. What had to happen to make this possible in your life? Who was involved? How was the timing perfect? By deepening our gratitude, we will reach unprecedented states of thankfulness and closeness to God.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President