Bikkurim for the New Year

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In this week’s Parasha, Ki Savo, the text opens with the bringing of fruit to the altar. This seems rather normal, since it takes a year to read through the Torah. What is rather abnormal about it, however, is that it is actually quite a timely portion to read.

When you enter the land that HaShem your G-d is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it, you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the HaShem your G-d is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the HaShem your G-d will choose to establish His name.

Devarim 26:1-2

An initial reading of the text follows the instructions Moshe is giving to klal yisrael before they enter the promised land. As we know from Jewish layers of interpretation (PaRDeS), there is always more than meets the eye. In this case, a semiotic nugget I want to share is specifically on the timing. Being one of the later, and near final, portions we read before Simchas Torah, Parasha Ki Savo is read just prior to Rosh Hashana, the “new year.”

There are two “new years” on the Jewish calendar. The Torah instructs us that Nissan is the start of the year with Pesach as the first of the holidays. As of the second night of Pesach, we begin to count the Omer in preparation of receiving the Torah on Shavuos. This is when bikkurim is brought to the Temple. This is where our Parasha takes place. So why do we read it now, in the Fall, instead of the Spring?

There are two ways to look at the timing of our Torah reading. The first is that everything is coincidental and unplanned. That’s a pshat. Then there’s the deeper layers, with the sod being this: HaShem intends everything, and every portion has its own specific purpose at that part of the year.

So what do we have to learn from reading about bikkurim now? Here’s the mind-blowing part. The second “new year” is actually our civic head of the year, when we are judged for the upcoming year and the logs are drafted on our income, livelihood, etc. That is Rosh Hashana. So we are now reading about the offerings to be made shortly after the new year as we are in a different, yet similar, new year.

There are three festivals that we are commanded to come together as a community at the Temple: Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. Pesach starts our year, Shavuos gives us our Torah, and Sukkos reminds us of our journey. And now, we have another parallel to unite them: we count our days until bikkurim, and Sukkos is a reminder of our bikkurim, as the conclusion of Sukkos brings us to the spiritual fruit that was delicately tended to during the year with the completion and rewinding of our Torah scrolls.

So what does all this mean? It means fruit is more than a literal meaning – it is also an allusion to the fruitful relationship we build with HaShem by learning Torah, davening, and performing mitzvos. So, as we go into this new year, be inspired. Be driven. Be fruitful.

L’Shanah Tovah!