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Shabbat Parashat Emor 5774

Ein Ayah: Fruit and Avodat Hashem for Those Close and Far

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Bikurim 28)

Mishna: Those who were close [to Yerushalayim] would bring figs and grapes [as bikurim], and those who were further away would bring dried figs and raisins.   


Ein Ayah: The bringing of bikurim (first fruit) to the place of the Mikdash, the eyes and heart of Israel, should guide the individual and his activities to closeness to Hashem and His light. In this context, the different fruit in the mishna have meaning.

Figs and grapes are moist and fresh and are tastier than dried figs and raisins. They are best for those who are close, who do not have to worry about the toil and effects of travel. When it is necessary to preserve the fruit to enable one to come from a distance to the mountain of Hashem, it is worthwhile to give up a little pleasantness.

The above distinction is parallel to different approaches to spiritual life – the power of Torah and the power of prophecy. Torah, as expanded by the Oral Law, collects many detailed laws and inferences in the depth of halachot. These appear “dry” in relation to matters related to prophecy, which deal with Godliness and lofty philosophy. Offshoots of prophecy include thoughts of the heart during prayer and knowledge of the Torah’s hidden meanings.

When we had access to the light of Hashem that was “planted” in Eretz Yisrael, the light of prophecy played a big part in our world. We are promised that this element will be even greater in the future, when the special light of Hashem within our souls is the grandeur of Israel. We will then be able to securely receive the spirit of prophecy, close to the Beit Hamikdash, planted in our Land, and protected from tempests and confusing ideas.

However, under the yoke of being distanced from our coveted Land due to our sin, suffering a bitter exile, we need to connect to things that persevere under pressure – the four amot of halacha, which is all Hashem has in His world since the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. Someone who looks superficially at technical halachot sees dry ideas, but a fresh power of life is hidden within them, which has allowed us remain a holy nation within a difficult exile.

Therefore, in the Second Temple period, which was primarily a preparation for the subsequent long exile/dispersion, prophecy had already ceased. The nation’s spiritual powers were thus focused on developing the Torah, making it very specific and exact, rather than on prophecy. This enabled the nation to exist in that setting through excellence in the extensive Torah. About this time we say: the words of the Rabbis are dearer than the words of the Torah.

Bikurim symbolizes this idea. Fresh figs and grapes are dear to those who can bring them, but for those who come from a distance, drier fruit are specifically more capable of surviving the long trip while keeping their taste. They are holy fruit with which to praise Hashem, and they join together with the fresh fruit which are all brought to the Mikdash. Obviously spiritual experiences join with the detailed mitzvot, together bringing stability to form a strong, glorious unit.

This idea can also relate to different people. Some people want a palpable feeling of spiritual closeness with Hashem. They emotionally need to spill out their soul in prayer with joy and light, while they may be far away in regard to actions. In difficult physical, commercial, or political settings, they will be unable to survive with their personal tendencies intact. These are the close people who bring figs and grapes. On the other hand, there are people who follow the straight path and are full of fear and love of Hashem and His Torah, but they are of a more subdued emotional style. They are made for bearing the burden of a life of fulfilling mitzvot. One may not see their hidden light as they are involved in a world of material activity. These are the distant people who bring long-lasting dried fruit. About them the pasuk says, “A pure fear of Hashem stands forever” (Tehillim 19:8) and “The Torah of his G-d is in his heart; he will not stumble in his steps” (ibid. 37:31).

How beautiful it is to see the glorious Yerushalayim in which Jews of all types and styles join in unity, as each sees the positive in the other’s nature. There will be “peace to the close and to the distant” (Yeshaya 57:19).

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