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Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim 5774

Ein Ayah: Proudly Not Cosmopolitan

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Bikurim 9:27)

Mishna: How would they bring the bikurim (first fruit) to Yerushalayim? All of the towns in a ma’amad region (where pious people would come together in a rotation to say special prayers and be the representatives of the populace of the country in relation to the service in the Temple) would go to the town of the ma’amad and sleep in the town square and not enter houses. To those who woke up early, the appointed person would say: “Let us rise and go up to Zion, to the house of Hashem, our G-d.”

 

Ein Ayah: It is accepted among the nations that a nation whose activity is all focused around agriculture and is not involved in commerce and the connected field of industry will lower its level of social development. Agriculture breeds isolationism, which prevents the society from absorbing the new spirit, knowledge, and attributes from other nations.

However, Israel is intended to be the Nation of Hashem. It is supposed to be a wise nation (see Devarim 4:5), with the most developed and pure knowledge and intellect.  On the other hand, Hashem wanted them to be entrenched in their Land, enjoying its bounty, and uninterested in pursuing livelihood beyond it, as the latter causes the people of a nation to be spread among various nations for the purpose of commercial dealings. Hashem gave Israel the power to improve its intellectual/cultural level from within.

For other nations, commerce fosters social cohesiveness, as merchants have to interconnect to succeed. Farmers are less in need of cohesiveness on pragmatic grounds. It is appropriate that the connection that there is between the people of Israel should be based on spiritual cohesiveness that is unrelated to personal gain. They are to be united in love of Hashem and His Torah, which is based on an internal national connection.

Bikurim represent this idea of the nation’s special love for agriculture and the notion that our culture improves specifically when we are nationally insular and united in spiritual joint activity. That as why specifically as part of the bikurim procedure, people would join together from a whole region into the town of the ma’amad, unlike the other nations who come together in commercial centers. They slept in the square to show their love of nature and the related working in the fields. They stayed away from houses where being under one roof causes the spread of impurity, which impedes pure natural life. Fortunate is the nation that chooses a life of natural purity, avoiding a fall into primitive life and embracing wisdom and culture, all of whose elements are to be found within its own society. The people just need to concentrate on developing these holy capabilities without searching in “foreign vineyards.”

This is why the appointee announced the journey to the house of our G-d. The nations refer to the Beit Hamikdash as a mountain (see Yeshaya 2:3), as did Avraham (see Bereishit 22:14). This refers to the light of Israel that is open for the nations to see raised before them. However, Yaakov referred to the holy site as a house (Bereishit 28:19), for by his time, the Jews had already entered the period in which they were unique and separate from the nations. Therefore, Zion was the “house of Hashem,” defined by walls and protected from those without. No foreign influence should get in and impact on our culture. Our complete Torah is fully capable of making us a lofty nation and giving us the ability to possess every form of wisdom. Foreign cultural domination corrupts Israel, as we know from experience.

The nations will recognize the Divine Spirit that engulfs Israel and will absorb some of it, turning the Mikdash into a mountain. However, when we discuss bikurim, which celebrates the isolationist and internally focused element of Israel, we take a different approach. We see Zion as the place where Hashem revealed Himself to make an imprint upon us of a life of holy actions, wisdom, and good attributes. Then we can focus on a connection with our compatriots based on spiritual enrichment rather than material benefit. In this context, we must give to other nations and not receive from them. For these spiritual gains we go up to Yerushalayim, to the house of Hashem.

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