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Shabbat Parashat Behar 5774

Ein Ayah: Work, Wealth, Light If Done Properly

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Bikurim 29-30)

Mishna:  [On the way to Yerushalayim with the bikurim (first fruit)] the bull would be walking before them, with his horns coated with gold and a wreath of olive on his head, and the challil was playing before them until they got close to Yerushalayim.


Ein Ayah:  When a nation has a lofty goal, it celebrates its approach to value work because only through a strong work ethic will the nation enjoy a straight and clean life. If it had no greater aspiration than a life of physicality, there would not be a good reason to want riches and prominence, whereas if there is a grand agenda to promote in the world, the nation would desire that its work bring it riches. The riches are not important in and of themselves but as a tool to bring light to itself and the whole world through the light of its true wisdom, the light of Hashem. This is the goal of Israel.

This explains the elements of the procession. The bull represents work, as the pasuk says, “A multitude of grain through the strength of the bull” (Mishlei 14:4). The coating of gold shows that hard work is that which brought the riches, not plundering foreign armies. However, the purpose of it all is represented by the wreath of olives, which represents the light of the Torah, as it does in the menora in the Beit Hamikdash. (The gemara in Bava Batra 25b tells us that one who wants to be wise should go to the south, as the menora is in the south of the Beit Hamikdash.) Shir Hashirim Rabba (4:1) points out that the dove brought back an olive branch to Noah’s ark because it is something that brings light. All this shows that work brings riches, and riches are a crown to show off the wisdom, so that all will say: “Hashem will be great above the border of Israel” (Malachi 1:5). This light represented by the olives is the point of the procession.

The challil [a type of simple musical instrument; it is not clear what its relation to the modern instrument of that name is] has a special significance in this procession. It is unique in that it is used both at weddings and at funerals (see Bava Metzia 75b). In fact, full simcha is most special when it is accompanied by a feeling that one was protected from potential tragedy. We can connect this to the idea of the three elements to strive for as follows.

The bull represented the positive elements of hard work, the gold represented the riches which we deem positive, and the olives represented the light of Torah wisdom, which is the ultimate goal of all of this. However, all of these wonderful tools could be horribly destructive for the nation if used incorrectly. Hard physical work can cause a person to focus on the material side too much. Riches can cause one to focus on chasing worldly pleasures, which pollute the heart from appreciating true wisdom and G-dly ideas. Even wisdom can be used for bad (see Yeshaya 47:10). The antidote to these dangers is to follow the path of Hashem that “comes out of Yerushalayim.” We can be sure that these successes that bring fortune to the nation can raise its level. The challil, which can be used for mourning as well as for happiness, plays to a happy beat in the case of bikurim until they get close to Yerushalayim, where Hashem commands blessing upon us.

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