And you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground (Devarim 26:2)
Chazal state that when workmen would see people bringing bikurim to Jerusalem, they would stop their work and give honor to those bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem. The Alshich wonders, what is so special about this mitzvah, which allows a worker to stray from his obligations to his employer to show respect for this mitzvah? In Gemara Brachos, Chazal didn’t let workers finish the whole benching or davening, so as not to cause a loss of work to their employers! In short, he answers that the idea of hakaras hatov is so important, that leaving the desk or work station is necessary.
In fact, the Medrash Rabbah Bereishis (1:4) says that in the merit of three things the world was created, and one of them is bikurim. The Medrash also points out that bikurim is called “reishis” – the beginning – just as in the first words of the Torah “bereishis”.
I would like to explore the idea of bikurim being the first – reishis. I heard someone once comment that the first fruits of the season are not the most succulent. Rather, mid-season fruits are the ones that truly make your mouth water. So why is it that we give the first fruits to Hashem?! Instead, a farmer should wait and give the best mid-season fruits to Hashem. The answer given was that no matter what they taste like, the first fruits are sweet to the one who harvested them, for they symbolize the success and achievement of his endeavor. Those first fruits in particular – the ones that show who really “made it” – must be the ones with which we give our thanks by saying “it was only with Hashem’s help that we were successful.”
An employee who works for an employer must have hakaras hatov to the employer. Why is that so? The employer should perhaps have hakaras hatov to the employee for he is the one who makes his business successful! In truth it seems to me that both sides require an element of hakaras hatov, but the employer at the end of the day is the one who gives the employee his sustenance. Therefore, the obligation to have hakaras hatov to the employer is more pronounced.
I would like to suggest that the worker who sees even the rich man personally bringing his bikurim to Jerusalem in song, dance, and with praises to Hashem, will imbue this worker on the side of the road with the understanding that he too must appreciate both Hashem and also his employer who provides sustenance for him.
It seems to me that letting the workers go to the bikurim parade is a business investment: By giving the men time off, they have the ability to contemplate their obligation to their employer, and the employees will thereafter work with more energy and zest. When all the numbers are crunched, it would seem that this mitzvah in particular does not actually cost the employer anything, but rather encourages his workers to work better, compensating the employer for any lost time.
We are filled with many concerns as the new year approaches: Our finances; our health; and our emotional state. Yet, we must use this time to make ourselves ready to plead our case to Hashem to give us a successful year. I think that this parsha – which always precedes Rosh Hashanah – is here to make us stop and ponder if we ever said “Thank You!” to Hashem for bringing us to this point. There are so many people who were around for last Rosh Hashanah who are not here today. So many simchas that we have celebrated. We are obligated to say “Thank you” to Hashem for that which He has given to us in the past before we ask for help in the future.
Chazal tell us that when Hashem hears us say “Thank you” with our bikurim in hand, He guarantees us that next year we will also be successful and give the brocho again. We should merit to say our “thank you’s” with a full heart and joy, and maybe this will help us merit a Kesiva v’Chasima Tovah!\