Standing on the bank of the Jordan River just days before his passing, Moses spoke to his beloved people, instructing them that they were about to reaffirm the covenant they had made with G‑d 40 years ago at Sinai:

These are the words of the covenant, which the L‑rd commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.1

Although the covenant is the main theme of this week’s Parshah, it begins with Bikkurim—the obligation of the Jewish farmer to bring his first fruit to Jerusalem as a gift to G‑d. What is the connection?

It is safe to assume that in addition to its conventional meaning, the commandment to take the “first fruit,” place it in a “basket,” and bring it to “the place that G‑d will choose,” is also a general mystical lesson for the way we are to live.

The Torah tells us:

And it will be, when you come into the land which the L‑rd, your G‑d, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the L‑rd, your G‑d, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the L‑rd, your G‑d, will choose to have His Name dwell there.2

Eretz, the Hebrew word for “land,” is related to the Hebrew word ratzon, “will.” Both land and will are related to the Hebrew word for running, for such is the nature of strong will—it compels us to get up and run toward that which we desire.

The Kabbalists explain that ratzon, will and desire, is the most powerful force within the human being. The will has the power to control the other faculties and unleash the dormant potential. Awakening the desire to feel or to understand, will, in fact, awaken the heart and mind, [which is why the most effective teachers are not the ones who understand the subject matter best, nor the ones who can articulate and explain the best, but the ones who are gifted with the ability to instill a love for the subject, which will inspire the student to want to grasp the material].

Like the farmer who tills the earth to plant, sow, irrigate, and reap fruit, a Jew must also seek to cultivate the “first fruit.” The first and most important thing a Jew should cultivate is ratzon,a longing to transcend the confines of the material and reconnect to the source of all—the infinite light of G‑d.

Yet the desire to “run,” to escape the mundane, transcend the physical, and cleave to the source of life, is only the first step.

Judaism demands far more. Judaism teaches that we need to capture the desire, the urge to run, and direct it to a “vessel” that will be able to contain and preserve that inspiration in daily life:

Take the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the L‑rd, your G‑d, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket.3

Placing the fruit in the basket means applying the inspiration, the desire to transcend, and investing it into our daily activities.

And, as the Torah continues, the purpose of placing the fruit in the basket is to “go to the place which the L‑rd, your G‑d, will choose to have His Name dwell there.” Where is that “place”? Well, the answer is different for everyone, for G‑d places each of us in a unique place where it is our mission to “have His Name dwell there,” i.e., to fill that place with the inspiration, kindness, and joy of Judaism. This is the heart of the covenant, and indeed, all of Torah.

(Adapted from Hayom Yom, Elul 18, based on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, whose birthday is Elul 18.)