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Friday
Sep072012

TOTALITY PERSONIFIED

CARRYING THE BIKKURIM ON THE KING’S SHOULDERS

This week’s parsha discusses the Mitzvah of Bikkurim, the first fruits a Jew would bring in a basket to Jerusalem.

The Mishna describes the manner in which the basket would be carried. As soon as the owners of the fruits would arrive at the Temple Mount, they would carry the basket on their shoulders and bring it to the Kohen. The Mishna then underscores the importance of personally carrying the basket by citing the fact that King Agrippa (of the Herodian dynasty, known for his fidelity to Jewish teachings and the mutual respect that existed between him and the Sages of his time) would also personally carry the basket of Bikkurim rather than have one of his servants do it for him.

A question has been raised. Isn’t there a commandment in the Torah to preserve the honor of a king? Moreover, a king who wishes to forgo the honor due him may not do so for it is not his honor to forgo, it is G-d’s honor that he represents. What then gave Agrippa the right to forgo his honor and “schlep” his own basket?

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) addresses a similar problem with respect to a king’s performance of a Mitzvah that may be beneath his dignity. The Talmud explains that “a Mitzvah is different.” When a king wishes to forgo his honor in deference to another mortal he is told that his honor is not truly his own to forgo; the monarchy is a Divine institution and it is G-d’s honor that he must preserve. However, when he wishes to perform a Mitzvah that may appear to be demeaning it is not a problem because what he does is for G-d’s honor.

KING DAVID’S IRREVERENCE

A similar issue was raised by King David’s queen Michal, the daughter of King Saul. When King David returned with the Holy Ark he “danced with all his might before the L-rd” and carried on in what appeared to be an undignified fashion provoking the ire of Michal: “Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked through the window, and she saw King David hopping and dancing before the L-rd, and she loathed him in her heart.” And when she expressed her profound displeasure with his behavior, David responded that even if he would demean and degrade himself more for the sake of G-d, he would, in truth, feel honored.

In other words, when a king stands before G-d and “pulls out all the stops” although he appears to be dishonoring himself, it is for the purpose of honoring G-d, and is therefore desirous and praiseworthy.

King David’s response serves as a precedent for all of the apparent irreverent behavior, the “wild” gestures and gesticulations that accompany special holiday celebrations. It is not considered to be degrading and demeaning. Rather, it is our way of displaying our passion for G-d and His Holy days.

HOLY FOLLY 
OR WHOLLY FOLLY?

Everything that exists in the realm of holiness has its counterpart in the secular and even in unholy domains. People go crazy in the presence of superstars and at special sporting events. They will stand, hop, jump, shout, gesticulate and carry on, shedding every ounce of civility and normalcy. Yet that, ironically, is called normal behavior in our “civilized” society.

Where does that “craziness” come from? It really derives from the soul’s passion for G-dly things. The soul is in a constant state of moving and shaking, trying to get closer to the Divine. If one does not dance and sing for G-d, the soul will find other outlets to let off some of its steam. And if it cannot express its passion for G-d, it might discover that its passion has been diverted into frivolous matters, if not worse.

In Chassidic parlance, two forms of folly are described: There is holy folly (Shtus d’k’dusha) and its unholy counterpart (Shtus d’le’umas zeh). The Talmud (K’subos 17a) relates that when a certain Sage juggled at a wedding to bring joy to the bridegroom and bride, he was criticized for his irreverent behavior by one of his colleagues. Only after his passing, when his critic witnessed a fiery partition that separated his grave from all the others, did he realize that this sages’ folly was actually a sign of his heightened and unconventional spiritual level and that he was head and shoulders above all the other Sages.

If “holy folly” is warranted, even for the noble monarch, it is certainly desirous for the common person. And if one must act unconventionally for G-d’s honor during Holidays and other festive occasions, than certainly one must go to great lengths, even what some may consider “overboard,” to bring Moshiach—the ultimate human monarch, who will usher in unprecedented and perpetual G-dly light.

HOLY FOLLY AND A BASKET OF FRUIT

We must still try to understand why the lesson of a monarch’s need to forgo his own honor is derived from the example of King Agrippa carrying a basket of first fruits—Bikkurim—from the Temple mount to the Temple.

There is something special about the Mitzvah of Bikkurim. Although this Mitzvah is one of many ways through which a Jew would express gratitude to G-d for His abundant blessings, there is something unique about this particular way of expressing gratitude.

When we eat, we recite a blessing thanking G-d for the food He has provided us. In contrast, when a Jew brought Bikkurim, it was not just a mental and verbal exercise; the Jew had to engage his power of action as well. He had to physically bring the first fruits to the Holy Temple. This implied that every aspect of his being was a part of this expression of gratitude. Moreover, the person who brought the first fruits had to bring it in a basket. Not only did every fiber of the person participate in this outpouring of thanks, but even his possessions became an integral part of the ceremony. Not only did we bring our choice possessions to G-d, we did it with our possessions. That is what we call total involvement in a Mitzvah.

We can now understand why this Mitzvah, in particular, establishes a precedent that even a king whose honor must be guarded would personally schlep his basket to the Temple. Of all people, a king has a special obligation to demonstrate his total subservience to G-d.

The Talmud captures this total submission that a king must exhibit by relating a law concerning the central prayer, called the Amida (standing prayer) or Shmoneh Esrei (Eighteen Benedictions). During this prayer there are four places where we bow our heads, twice at the beginning and twice near the end. A Kohen Gadol was required to bow at the beginning and end of each of the eighteen blessings. A king would bow at the beginning and remain in that bowed position throughout the entire prayer. Rashi explains: “The greater one is, the more he must humble himself.”

In light of the above analysis, we may add another insight as to why the king had to remain bowed throughout the prayer. The spiritual dimension of the king is one of totality. A king exhibits total submission in every aspect of his being. His honor is G-d’s honor. He must appear dignified and noble at all times. A king’s role is to reveal G-d’s Kingship to the people. No part of him can be permitted to compromise his G-dly role. The king must exude an aura of total involvement with his Judaism. This is one of the reasons why a king must have a Torah scroll written expressly for him and carry it with him at all times.

Of all the Mitzvos, there is one that reflects this notion of totality of involvement in expressing our dependence on and attachment to G-d. This is the Mitzvah of Bikkurim, which, as stated, involves our thought speech and action and our possessions as well.

Of all the places in the world there is one that demands total submission: the Beis HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Hence, the king, the person who personifies total commitment, would demonstrate this concept of totality, particularly, by bringing the Bikkurim—a Mitzvah that involves the totality of the human experience—from the Temple Mount to the environment that generates the aura of totality, the Holy Temple itself.

KING MOSHIACH: WHY THE EMPHASIS ON THE MONARCHY?

We can now understand why there is emphasis in rabbinic literature that Moshiach is a monarch. Why would that be important when we are dealing with an age of utopia and pervasive goodness and holiness?

The answer is that the Messianic Era is characterized by Maimonides as an era when all of Judaism will reach its state of perfection. We will have the totality of Torah and our Mitzvah experience will likewise be a total and encompassing one.

To usher in that age, Moshiach, the ultimate personification of total involvement with G-d and Judaism, will be a king. His role as a monarch as it relates to power and control is not so important to highlight. Rather, it accentuates the all-encompassing nature of the king in his relationship with G-d and with the Jewish people and indeed with all of humanity. Moshiach, more than any other person, personifies the Mitzvah and ideal of Bikkurim.

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