Friday, August 27, 2010

Ki Savo/Elul: Fresh Produce and a New Year

Parshas Ki Savo is always read as we enter into the second half of Chodesh Elul, moving full speed ahead towards the new year. Let’s see what we can take out of the Parsha to enhance our Avodah as we approach the Yomim Nora’im.

The ideas we will discuss are based on the Shiurim of Rav Sitorsky and the holy Sefer Emunas Itecha.

The Parsha opens up by telling us that the upcoming law is connected to entering into the new land, “V’Haya Ki Savo El Ha’Aretz”, ‘And it shall be when you enter into the land etc…’ Our goal is to explain how entering into the new land of Eretz Yisrael thematically mimics our entrance into the new year, via Rosh HaShana.

The Midrash Sifri tells us that Hashem tells the Jewish people, “Be very careful with the Mitzvah of Bikurim, because of its merit shall you remain in Eretz Yisrael.”

So what is the Mitzva of Bikurim? Bikurim are the First Fruits that appear upon any given person’s fruit trees. These special First Fruits are designated to be brought to the Beis HaMikdash.

Other ritual taxations, known as Trumos V’Ma’asros are to be brought to Yerushalayaim or at the very least given to the local Kohen. Why must the Bikurim be entered into the realm of the Beis HaMikdash?

The answer is that just like the Bikurim are a mark of a starting point – so is the Beis HaMikdash. The First Fruits, on a very micro-cosmic level, mark the beginning of one’s produce. The Beis HaMikdash and more specifically the Even Shesiya - the Foundation Stone – on which it stands, mark the beginning of existence as a whole.

Jewish thought teaches that the central point from where physicality started to be, the exact location of existence’s initial existence so-to-speak was the place on the Temple Mount, directly below the ‘Holy of Holies’; a ‘stone’ called the “Even Shesiya.” It marks the very start of everything. And it is in this spot where we build the Beis HaMikdash.

Thus we see how it would be very fitting to bring the Bikurim to the Beis HaMikdash. By bringing the First Fruits to the place where all ‘Firsts’ find their root, we in essence link together an entire cycle of the universe by connecting the start history with the start if this year’s produce. We take a piece of fruit, which by itself will rot away, and we join it to the Beis HaMikdash - something obviously much more significant than a piece of fruit.

The whole idea of Bikurim is teaching us about excitement, zealousness, Zerizus - to take a small spark of initial excitement and attach it to something much greater, to bring that opening enthusiasm into Avodas Hashem.

So where does this idea of Bikurim find its source? All the way back with the Bikurim of all souls – with Adam HaRishon. The first Man contained all the initial excitement we explained just above, and he was meant to be totally attached to Avodas Hashem, and thereby live forever. But on the very same day which he was born, on Rosh HaShana, he ruined his personal manifestation of Bikurim through his sin with the Tree of Knowledge. Through his disobedience to God’s will, the Torah tells us that he caused death to come over the world – the diametric opposition to the excitement of Bikurim - a concept that would have totally not existed at all had he not messed up in the way that he did.

Because what is death really? Death is simply a ceasing-to-be of life force. And life is really an ever-flowing continuum of renewal. One, tiny, new moment linked to a moment that ‘deceased’ an instant before. Life in its essence is constant freshness, excitement, originality, Zerizus. And without that constant sense of ingenuity, we are, on some level – dead.

So with the sin of Adam HaRishon, the Bikurim of all souls, death comes into the world, and as a part of fixing it we are commanded to show our commitment to Zerizus by taking the Bikurim of our fields to the meta-Bikurim of the universe – the Beis HaMikdash.

The Beis HaMikdash thus needs to be an embodiment of Zerizus, and we can see very clearly how this is in fact the cace. Back in Parshas VaYeitze, read how Yaakov Avinu falls asleep on some unspecified mountain and dreams of a majestic ladder which ascends into the heavens. Chazal tell us that this place on which he fell asleep was in fact the Temple Mount. When he awakens he proclaims, “Mah Norah HaMakom HaZeh! ‘How awe-inspiring is this place!’ Rashi explains that Yaakov meant that, ‘Had I known how holy this place was, I wouldn’t have dared to sleep here!’ The Temple Mount is a place of life, a place of invigoration, a place of excitement, not a place for sleeping! Sleeping is a little taste of death, and the Makom HaMikdash is not a place for that.

This also explains the seemingly extreme principles implemented against any Levite caught sleeping on the grounds of the Beis HaMikdash. There was a specially appointed person doing rounds to look for the sleeping Levites, and what was their wake-up call? This man’s job was to light their pants on fire! Wake up! The Beis HaMikdash is a place of exhilaration!

To move forward in our analysis let’s take a moment to introduce a concept gleaned from the Sefer Yetzira. We are taught that corresponding-counterparts can often be found within the context of space (Makom) and time (Zman). For example, what Bein HaMeitzarim, the Three Weeks in which we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash are in the realm of time – the Dead Sea fills the same role in the realm of a physical location. They both are devoid of life and growth. They are both depressingly barren, and they are low, spiritually and physically (the surface of the Dead see is an amazing 1,300 feet below sea-level!). And while listing every connection would be beyond the scope of this essay, it is important to point out that such parallels run through every level of the Jewish cycle of the year.

So, in regards to our discussion, what is the thematic-counterpart of the Beis HaMikdash in the realm of time? The answer is Rosh HaShana. The explanation is obvious. Just like we explained that space unfolded from the physical place of the Beis HaMikdash, so too time kicked off from Rosh HaShana. If the Beis HaMikdash the direct center of Makom, then the clear corresponding moment in Zman would be Rosh Hashana. They both are the Bikurim, the fresh, first energy of their respective themes.

And to bring it all home, the numerical value of Beis HaMikdash is eight hundred sixty-one. And not so surprisingly, what other term shares that exact Gematria? Rosh HaShana. Do the math.

So if we are told to bring physical Bikurim to the physical Beis HaMikdash, then how are we supposed to bring conceptual Bikurim to Rosh HaShana - the Beis HaMikdash of Zman?

The answer is found in an accepted practice of all Jewish people in these times of Elul. Sefaradim start in the beginning of the month, and Ashkenazim wait until the end, but no matter which sect you find yourself a part of, it is an accepted practice among Jews in this time of the year to get up earlier in the morning and recite Selichos, to beseech mercy and forgiveness in preparation for Rosh HaShana.

What greater Zerizus is there than to get up early in the morning, to take the ‘Bikurim’ of the day so-to-speak, and focus them towards the Beis HaMikdash of Time? In the same way that we take the Bikurim of our physical fields and bring them to the Beis HaMikdash - we take the fresh energy of the start of the day and direct it to Rosh HaShana.

To enjoy Bikurim without bringing it to the Beis HaMikdash is to ride the thrill of the initial excitement of anything without putting it into a greater context of Avodas Hashem. Like we said before – a first fruit by itself will rot – an exciting burst of energy is nice; but it will wear off.

The Avodah of Elul is to take the energy of these exciting times and pump it into Avodas Hashem. Whether it is the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim, the Beis HaMikdash of the New Year, or the Beis HaMikdash in our hearts, we need to take the Bikurim in our lives, the moments of excitement and inspiration and use it to excel as much as we can in our Avodas Hashem inundate our lives with exhilaration and Zerizus in our relationship with the Divine.

B’Ezras Hashem we should all be Zocheh to take advantage of the rest of Chodesh Elul and our lives as a whole – to tap into our Zerizus, our inner ‘Bikurim’ and channel it towards the Beis HaMikdash - on whatever level we can. If we can do this there is no doubt we will live lives of happiness and fulfillment, coming away with a tremendous experience on Rosh HaShana, moving closer to the creator and ultimately the redemption!

No comments:

Post a Comment