From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Whether we appreciate the blessings in our lives or we take them for granted will always depend on whether we pause long enough to consider life and its blessings, or we just go along our merry way, oblivious to anything but the superficial.
This week we read about bikkurim, the first fruit offerings Jewish farmers in the holy land were commanded to bring in thanksgiving to G‑d for the land and its produce. On a basic level, bikkurim remind us never to become ungrateful for the things we are blessed with in life. Interestingly, the law only took effect fourteen years after the Jewish People entered the Promised Land. It took seven years to conquer and another seven to distribute the land to the twelve tribes of Israel. Only when that process was completed did the law of the first fruits become applicable.
But why? Surely there were quite a few tribes that were settled earlier than the others. No doubt, some of the farmers who had received their allotted land had planted and seen the first fruits of their labors. Why then were they not required to show their appreciation immediately by bringing the bikkurim offering then and there?
The Rebbe explains that in commanding this mitzvah, the Torah uses the phrase “And you shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem your G‑d has given you.” In order to be able to fully experience the joy of his own blessings in life, a Jew needs to know that his brothers have been blessed as well. As long as one Jew knew that there were others who had not yet been settled in their land, he could not be fully content. Since simcha, genuine joy, was a necessary component in the mitzvah of bikkurim, it could only be fulfilled when everyone had been satisfied. Only then can a Jew experience true simcha, a sincere and genuine joy. Knowing that one’s friends and cousins are still fighting—or even not yet enjoying their own stretch of land—somehow takes away the appetite for a party, even if we personally may have reason to rejoice. One Jew’s satisfaction is not complete when he knows his brother has not yet been looked after.
I remember reading a story from the annals of the Previous Rebbe’s arrest by the Communists back in Russia in 1927. Rabbi J.I. Schneersohn was the heroic spiritual leader of Russian Jewry then, and the Soviets sentenced him to death for his religious activities on behalf of his people. The Previous Rebbe had a marvelous pen, and he described his incarceration and the tortures he suffered at the hands of the most uncouth and sadistic guards in that notorious Russian prison.
One of the prison guards was unbelievably cruel. He himself said that when he would beat and torture a prisoner, he would derive so much pleasure watching the man suffer that when he drank his tea he didn’t need his usual dose of sugar. Just watching the torture sweetened his tea! Such was a vicious anti-Semite. But a Jew experiences the reverse sensation. He cannot enjoy his tea or his first fruits knowing that his brother is still unsettled. The sweetest fruits go bitter in our mouths, as we feel the emptiness of our brethren.
So if you have a job, think of someone who doesn’t. If you are happily married, think of those still searching for their bashert and try making a suitable introduction. And as it’s almost yom tov, if you will be privileged enough to buy new outfits for the family, spare a thought for those who cannot contemplate such a luxury. And when you plan your festive yom tov meals with your family and friends, remember to invite the lonely, the widow, and the single parent too. In this merit, please G‑d, we will all be blessed with a joyous and sweet new year. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.