May 2013: Shavuot
Shavuot historically involved the ancient practice of offering bikkurim, or first fruit as part of a public celebration. The Torah describes in detail how the obligation is fulfilled. Our lives have changed from those in the Israelite’s agricultural society. Judaism has also evolved from a central theme of Temple offerings. The holiday of Shavuot has developed more into a celebration about receiving the Torah. There are, however, many lessons for us to learn from the practice of Hag HaBikkurim.
After making this pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the full weight of the fruit on their shoulders, each land owner recited the confession (Deut. 26; 1-11), and gave the fruit of the seven species to the Priests at the Temple. This declaration gave gratitude to G-d for the gift of living in the Promised Land. As part of the confession, the individual was thankful to G-d for the redemption from Egypt, and acknowledged the fulfillment of G-d’s promise of delivering their forefathers to the Promised Land. It is interesting to note that these personal obligations were only achieved through public celebrations. There is a true sense of equality since the obligation was observed by all Israelite farmers, both rich and poor.
The farmers took great pride in the quality and quantity of their produce. At the first sign of ripening fruit, strings were tied around the stem of the fruit to distinguish it as first fruit. The quantity of fruit designated as bikkurim was at the discretion of the farmer. Although some Rabbis recommended giving one sixteenth of the crop yield as bikkurim, farmers used their own judgment. All of their wealth and energy was consumed by producing these fruit. It was a true act of love and self-sacrifice to bring the first fruit to the Temple.
Agriculture and horticulture have always been an interest of mine. We grow our vegetables from seeds planted indoors in early March. I wait with great anticipation for the seeds to germinate. The seedlings are carefully transplanted to larger containers as they mature. As the sun warms the earth in spring, the plants are transferred outdoors to cold frames to encourage their growth. We have three plots in our town’s community garden. The practice of strict organic gardening is followed. Our yield is modest but the quality is exceptional. This year, we would like to establish a program among the community gardeners, where a portion of the produce is donated to local soup kitchens and shelters. In the past, our vegetables have been donated to vocational schools to facilitate the training of students in the culinary programs. We are also donating our extra vegetable plants to shelters and halfway houses so that the residents of these facilities may experience the many wonderful benefits of growing fresh produce.
Another local synagogue tends a community vegetable garden where all of the produce is donated. I would like TBS to form a garden committee to grow vegetables and flowers. The seasonal cut flowers could be delivered to all of the organizations that we support, as well as hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, assisted living and nursing homes where our members are located. I know that several of our members have an interest and expertise in horticulture. I would like to volunteer with you to beautify our Shul and bring nature into the lives of others. The possibilities are endless from planting bulbs on the Temple property to creating a self-sustaining garden that nourishes our community.
Shavuot is a holiday that encourages us to give more of ourselves. It is a gift to be able to help others. The greatest pleasures may be achieved through hard manual work, self-sacrifice, love and kindness, and faith in G-d.