The Mitzvah of Bikurim
הרב מרדכי גרינברג
The mishnayot in Masechet Bikurim (3:2-3) depict the ceremonial procession of the Bikurim.
How were the Bikurim taken up [to Yerushalayim]? All the cities of the Ma'amad (district of representative Israelites for the Beit Hamikdash) would assemble in the [central] city of the Ma'amad, and spend the night in the open place thereof without entering any of the houses. Early in the morning the officer would say, "Arise, let us ascend to Zion, to the house of Hashem our G-d!" ... An ox [with horns] bedecked with gold and with an olive-crown on its head led the way ...
Rav Kook, zt"l, in his commentary to Masechet Bikurim, explains at great length the symbolism of this ceremony. One of his ideas is as follows.
In the eyes of the world, an agricultural nation is considered uncivilized and uncultured due to its solitude, since it dwells detached from the other nations and cultures. However, a nation involved in commerce is always in contact with other nations, and is therefore considered a nation enriched in culture and spirituality.
We, the Jewish people, are "a nation that will dwell in solitude." (Bamidbar 23:9) Independent, we supply from within our ranks all of our political, cultural and spiritual needs (see Chulin 56b). Therefore, we strive to live off of the land, each man remaining under his grapevine and his date tree, not venturing off amongst the nations to engage in business and commerce.
As a result, our internal social life is also different from that of the other nations. The people of the world develop social connections primarily through business. The social fabric of the Jewish nation, however, is based on altruistic love, which is not dependent on anything other than a shared love for G-d and His Torah.
For this reason, we have the mitzvah of Bikurim, to show us the type of life we are intended to live. Bikurim signify the special love of Israel for agricultural work, so that we can develop our own culture, devoid of any outside influences. Therefore, all the members of each Ma'amad gathered in one city in an act of brotherhood and friendship, sleeping in the open streets, embraced by nature.
"Avraham called [the Temple area] a mountain ... Yaakov called it a house." Avraham, father of many nations, called it a mountain, which can be seen from afar and belongs to everyone. He represents an open, universal philosophy. Yaakov, however, called it a house, since he gathered his family in and dwelled alone, detached from the rest of humanity. This is why the process of bringing the Bikurim involved an announcement of, "Arise, let us ascend to Zion, to the HOUSE of Hashem our G-d!" The "house" shows the inner meaning of the Bikurim, preaching a life of solitude to the Jewish people.
The ox symbolizes the power of labor. "Many crops come [through] the power of the ox." (Mishlei 14:4) The ox is present in the procession in order to publicize the nation's love of work, since only through arduous labor can we live a clean and straight life. However, while the goal of hard work is prosperity, it is important to emphasize that wealth is not a goal in and of himself. Rather, its purpose is to be a tool used to enlighten the nation and the world with wisdom and knowledge of the truth. This is why the ox walks with its horns "bedecked with gold." Prosperity, which is the initial objective, as symbolized by the HORNS of the ox, will not be achieved by oppressing other nations, but by the power of the ox, i.e., hard work. The ultimate goal is symbolized by the "olive-crown." The olive represents oil, which represents light -- specifically the light of the Menorah. The Menorah was positioned in the south of the Temple and, "One who desires wisdom should head south."
Therefore, our goal is that hard work should lead to prosperity, and prosperity should bring us a crown of wisdom and light, in order that it should be said, "May G-d be glorified above the nation of Israel." (Malachi 1:5) In addition, the nations of the world will admit and say, "Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the House of the G-d of Ya'akov ... For from Zion will the Torah come forth, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim." (Yeshaya 2:3)
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