The Lesson of the Firstfruits

Yael Eckstein  |  June 6, 2022

Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. —Exodus 23:16

From sundown June 4 through sundown June 6, my family and I will join Jews around the world to celebrate Shavuot, also known as The Festival of Weeks or Pentecost. Initially, Shavuot was a harvest festival, but since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we have celebrated it as the giving of the Torah, which occurred seven weeks, or 50 days, after the Exodus.

Did you know that the Jewish tradition is to recite no less than one hundred blessings a day! There are blessings for when we wake up, thanking God for another day. There is a blessing for going to the bathroom that thanks God for a functioning body.

There are different blessings for different kinds of food that thank God for “the fruit of the tree,” “the fruit of the ground,” or “for bringing forth bread from the earth.” Morning prayers include gratitude for the ability to see, the ability to walk, and the clothing we wear.

Many blessings are built into every day. When my children were small, my husband and I would recite every blessing aloud with our children. Since they learned to say them on their own, today they proudly recite them aloud, and we respond with an enthusiastic “Amen.” My husband and I also make it a practice to thank each other aloud and often so that we create a “culture of gratitude” inside of our home.

The Lesson of the Firstfruits

Of all the biblical festivals, the one that most emphasizes the value of gratitude is Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. On this holiday, also called the “Festival of Harvest,” we are directed to offer our firstfruits to God: “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.”

The Hebrew word for “firstfruits” is bikkurim, which gives the holiday its third biblical name, Yom HaBikkurim, the “day of firstfruits” (Numbers 28:26). Bringing to God the firstfruits — meaning the best of the harvest — is a tangible expression of our thankfulness and gratitude.

We might think that Passover, celebrating the redemption from slavery in Egypt, would be more appropriate for expressing our thanks to God. After all, we were saved from Egypt with so many signs and wonders. What is a greater cause for gratitude than that?

But that’s exactly the point. When someone saves us from extreme suffering or danger, of course we say thank you. Everyone would.

Firstfruits are the product of our own labors. When we work hard and reap the harvest, we can fool ourselves into forgetting that everything we have is a gift from God. We think we did it ourselves. So, the lesson of the firstfruits reminds us that just when we are enjoying our own success is precisely when we need to remember that all that we have is only from God’s blessings.

Your Turn:

Devote some time in worship to thank God for your own successes, for the fruits of your labors.

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