Parsha Ki Tavo 5772 — Bikkurim: Thanksgiving and Remembrance, and The Impact Of Intent in Mitzvot

by Moshe Burt

Ki Tavo opens by detailing the Halachot of Bikkurim — the first fruits which were brought to the Kohen as a thanksgiving as well as both remembrance of Pharaoh’s cruelty and Hashem’s deliverance of B’nai Yisrael from Mitzrayim to a land flowing with milk and honey.

The Stone Chumash on Parsha Ki Tavo (Sefer Devarim ,Perek 26, posukim 3, 5-10, page 1069) renders the posukim addressing the Halachot of Bikkurim:

When presenting Terumot to the Kohen: you shall come to whomever will be the Kohen in those days, and you shall say to him “I declare to Hashem, Your G’d, that I have come to the land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us.” ….Then you shall call out and say before Hashem: “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Mitzriyim and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation — great, strong and numerous. The Mitzrayim mistreated us and afflicted us, and placed hard work upon us. Then we cried out to Hashem, G’d of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voice and saw our affliction, our travail and opression. Hashem took us out of Mitzriyim with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with great awesomeness, and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place, and gave us a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold! I have brought the first fruit of the ground that you have given me, to Hashem!”

But one could ask on the 3rd posuk, Why the above statement is in the loshen “Your G’d,” not “Our” or “My”? Doesn’t the loshen “Your” seem like the loshen of the wicked son (one of the four sons referred to in the Pesach Haggadah)? For what does the wicked son say?:

“What purpose is this… to you?” (Sefer Shemot Perek 12, posuk 26 as cited in the Pesach Haggadah) “He says, ‘To You’, thereby excluding himself. By excluding himself from the community of believers, he denies the basic principle of Judaism. (Artscroll, “The Family Haggadah”, page 29)

This seeming relegation of Hashem to the 3rd person seems contrary to the spirit of the declaration (made between Shavuot to Succot) over the bikkurim, i.e. that the declaration is recited only at a time of joy.

However, in reality, the loshen “Your” is indicative of the special relationship between Hashem and the (that) Kohen as Hashem’s representative, even though the Kohen in any given generation may be “much inferior to his predecessors.”

The Bikkurim, therefore, are meant to be a gift which is given to the Kohen as Hashem’s representative (S’forno, as cited in The Stone Chumash, page 1069) and as:

Expressions of gratitude to Hashem for having given us the Land. (Rashi, as cited in The Stone Chumash, page 1069)

Once providing the format for presenting tithes to the Kohen and for expressing one’s great appreciation to, and love of Hashem by way of the Kohen, His representative, our Parsha then enunciates the laws concerning Ma’aser.

The Halachot of Bikkurim, albeit a learning exercise L’Shem Shemayim until the time of Moshiach and the Beit HaMikdash when the performance of the mitzvah will again be actualized, brings to mind a discussion concerning a Mishnah in perachim (chapters) in Mishnayot Terumot. The illustration below is troubling to this author, and seems a major paradigm of what happens when Mishnayot are learned in a vacuum, without the further insights of Gemora and/or other commentaries.

The discussion centers around Perek 4, Mishnayot 3 and 4 as rendered in Pinhas Kehati’s analysis of Mishnayot Terumot perek 4, Mishnah 4 pages 47-48, as well as Artscroll’s Mishnayot) where one who is generous would give 1/40th of his Terumot to the Kohen, one who is average would give 1/50th and one who is grudging would give 1/60th.

These parameters seem pretty cut and dry until one considers possible individual situations which could arise when one is designating Terumot for the Kohen, i.e. such as the case where an individual designates an agent to set aside his Terumah and, either “the agent knows the owner’s mind” regarding Terumot, but for whatever reason was not careful, or the agent “does not know the owner’s mind” and sets aside a larger amount than the owner’s intent — i.e. a generous amount, or sets aside the average amount or the grudging amount. In the case where any of the 3 situations occurs, the Mishnah deems the owner’s Terumah a “valid Terumah.”

But wait a minute! The Terumot designated by the owner’s agent is at variance with the owner’s kavanah (intent), i.e. if the owner always sets aside a generous amount for the Kohen, but the agent, either through his own carlessness, or perhaps, not knowing know his owner’s mind having been newly appointed as agent, set aside 1/60th as if a grudging portion.

And what if, due to individual extenuating circumstances, the owner did not or was not able to review the Kohen’s Terumah before it’s delivery? In such cases, according to the perek and Mishnah of Terumah, when the Terumah is brought before the Kohen (i.e. 1/50th or 1/60th where 1/40th was intended) it is deemed “valid Terumah.”

“Valid Terumah?” What about the owner’s kavanah? Isn’t one’s kavanah — intent a central tenant of Judaism? How can it be that one who is always generous now be viewed and deemed as average or grudging by the Kohen, or more importantly, by Hashem from Whom the Kohen serves as the vessel of Brachot? There just has to be a merchanism — an “escape clause” which would render such Terumah as invalid as it is at variance with the owner’s intent. Such a mechanism can then enable the owner and/or his agent go back and start again, thus designating a portion appropriate to the owner’s intent.

Sure enough, a review of Gemora Bava Metzia (Shottenstein Edition with English) pages 22a2- 22a-3 provides such a mechanism. Footnote #20 states citing Rashi:

When a person separates Terumah, his act is valid only if he is aware of what he is doing. Thus, it may be derived from the scriptual source… that the agents’ acts are valid only if the principal is aware of what he [presumably the agent] is doing, having appointed him beforehand.

And the Gemora Nedarim, page 59a-1 (Shottenstein edition with English) cites R’ Abba:

…Since if he wishes, he can petition a sage or panel of judges for [their annulment] — they [presumably the Terumah] are like a forbidden item for which there is a remedy…

The Gemora Nedarim also notes:

But Terumah, which is also something for which he can, if he wishes, petition a sage or a panel of judges for annulment…

Footnote #6 on this Gemora is more explicit:

Anything that becomes sanctified [Holy] through a verbal declaration, such as… Terumah, can have its declaration annulled by a sage (Rashi, Pesachim 46b, Rashbam, Bava Basra 120b). Terumah is therefore subject to annulment on the basis of both a[n] opening or regret… like all nedarim.

So what is the point of this entire exercise? The question occurs to this author as to accomplishing a learning alone, without the benefit of other texts and commentators which might mitigate or complete the learning — whether that is what Hashem wants, particularly when speaking of Kavanah — which is so central to Judaism? And what about a learning which directly relates to Kavanah — Intent 101, as is applied regarding the import and impact in this world and in Shemayim of expressions of gratitute to Hashem, i.e. presentation of Terumah and verbalizing to the Kohen, Hashem’s represerntative?

Does Hashem want closed-ended defined time-period learning of any text based on the premise of human nature — Derech HaTeva — the tendency toward possible drop-outism due to “boredom”? What is the value in the higher world of learning based on such a defined time period? Isn’t s’kar — credit in Shemayim — given for learning which is give-and-take and more fully understood? And perhaps, could it be that closed-ended defined time-period learning comes from the same place as insensitive speed-of-light tefillahs, the Shaliach Tzibbor who mumble-jumbles, mispronounces or misses words of Chazarat Hashatz (repetition of Shemonah Esrei), the person called up for an Aliyah who slurs the first 3 words of the Bracha such that the words are scarcely heard or appear to be omitted, or the 30 to 45 second Aleinu?? Is that what Hashem really wants from us?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage, backbone and moral stength of conviction to prevent both the eviction of Jews from their homes in all or any part of Eretz Yisrael and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem, Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.