In the last article I wrote for TAL, I described an issue which is at the heart of being a Jew: the attitude of gratitude. Our very name, Yehudim – Jews, means “those who thank”. An examination of our siddur (prayer book) shows it to be mainly concerned with expressions of gratitude. The first words we utter when we wake up in the morning are Modeh Ani – I am grateful! Let’s see how this theme is found in this week’s sedra.
The Midrash at the beginning of our sedra makes a strange statement: “Through the merit of bringing the bikurim (offering of the first fruits), we would enter the Land of Israel.” How could we bring our first fruits unless we were already living and working on the Land!?
The answer lies in mindset behind the mitzvah to bring the bikurim – attitude of gratitude. By having this attitude we would merit to inherit the Land. It was after 40 years of wandering through the desert that we had finally learnt this lesson. When we accepted the negative report of the ten spies, we were punished “40 years of desert wandering for the 40 days that the spies had wandered the land”.
Rabbi Chaim LeibShmuelevitz, (1902–1979) asks that on the surface, the 40 year punishment doesn’t seem fair. The actual sin of the spies occurred on one day, the 9th of Av when they came back and delivered their negative report and we accepted it. Surely we should have been punished one year’s wandering for one day of bad speech! The answer is that for the 40 days the spies walked around with a negative and ungrateful attitude, unappreciative of the miracles that G-d was performing for them, and at the opportunity they now had to enter the Holy Land.
Part of the procedure of bringing Bikurim was to make a declaration. The text which is of which forms the main part of the Haggadah; “An Aramean tried to destroy my father . . .” The text then goes on to describe a mini history of the Jewish people; the fact that we went down to Egypt, few in numbers, God then increased our numbers; we become slaves; but then God saved us with amazing miracles and wonders and then he brought us to the wonderful Land which flows with milk and honey.
Introducing this declaration the Torah states “VanitahVamartah – you shall answer and say” (to the Cohen, to whom you are presenting the basket of fruit). Why does the Torah need to write that we need to state that we should both “answer” and “say” to the Cohen? The Ohr HaChaimHakadosh (1696-1743) says that the word “vanitah – to answer” also has the meaning of “oni – to impoverish”. He suggests that when bringing the bikurim we were asked for a moment to do a mental exercise of impoverishing ourselves, to imagine that we have nothing; no home, no family, no national history no sense of community. After putting this through our mind, we then bring these things back one by one and see and appreciate all the positives and all the blessings that we have.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah we wish each other a ‘Good and Sweet New Year’. What’s with the superlative sweet that is not conveyed in the word good? An explanation is that a ‘good’ year refers to all the good that G-d wishes to bless us with in the year ahead and the ‘sweet’ is the attitude and the ability to be able to see and appreciate all the blessings.
May we and all our families be truly blessed with a good and sweet New Year!