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Basket Case?

By: Rabbi Dr Zvi Ron

In this week's parsha we read about the mitzvah to bring bikkurim, the first fruits, to the Beit HaMikdash. In the times of the Mikdash, the bringing of the bikkurim was a big production, a parade of people would come with their fruits, led by an ox adorned with gold, an accompanied by musicians. All the craftsmen of Jerusalem would stop working in order to greet this grand parade (Bikkurim 3:3).

One of the rules about bringing bikkurim is that it had to be brought in a basket, "you shall take some of the first fruit…put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name" (Devarim 26:2). These baskets also became a big deal. The Mishna records that wealthy people would bring their fruit in baskets made of gold and silver, and the poor would make baskets out of aravah branches (Bikkurim 3:8).

There is an unusual rule regarding these baskets. The Mishna teaches that the Cohanim would keep the baskets that the poor people made, along with the fruits, but for the wealthy, they kept only the fruit but returned the baskets. Based on this the Gemara makes a comment that "the poor get poorer" (Baba Kamma 92a).

Why not give the poor people back their baskets?  Furthermore, why not make a rule that everyone should bring aravah baskets so as not to embarrass the people who could not afford fancy baskets? There was a rule that the Cohen would tell every person what to say when bringing the bikkurim word for word, so as not to embarrass people who did not know Hebrew (Bikkurim 3:7). A similar rule could have been instituted regarding the baskets.

The midrash Sifri states that the baskets of the poor were "a merit" for them. Malbim explains this cryptic statement in the following manner. Poor people would make their baskets by hand, putting their time and effort into fulfilling this part of the mitzvah of bikkurim. This in itself elevated the basket to the level of a holy object, and as such it would be kept for use in the Beit Mikdash. Rich people bought a basket off the shelf in a shop, not having invested themselves personally in its manufacture. Thus, their basket never attained a high level of holiness.

The poor people were not embarrassed to bring their handmade baskets, they were proud of them. The Cohen keeping their basket showed that these baskets were holy, and confirmed that this was the ideal way to bring the bikkurim.

We see from here that the more we put of ourselves, our effort and our intent, into a mitzvah, the more holiness becomes invested in that mitzvah. It is a struggle sometimes to take time and truly invest ourselves in the mitzvot we do on a daily basis, but that is exactly the source of the spiritual power of the actions that we do.

Shabbat Shalom






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