There are many Biblical commandments regarding produce grown in the Land of Israel, including setting aside tithings for the Levites and the poor that add up to almost 20 percent of a farmer’s produce. Yet no other produce-related commandment was carried out with as much fanfare as the bikkurim, the injunction to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple. In addition to travelling to the Temple with the fruit offering, the farmer proclaims a very specific declaration of thanksgiving to G‑d. The declaration begins with the description of events in Jewish history, going back to the story of Jacob, then the slavery and Exodus from Egypt, and entering the Promised Land. It concludes with the farmer’s declaration that he is offering the first fruits as a gift to G‑d.

In addition to the declaration, the Mishnah describes the details of the procession through which the baskets of fruit were carried to Jerusalem:

A bull would go before them and its horns would be plated with gold and it would have an olive wreath around its head. The flute would play before them until they got close to Jerusalem. Once they got close to Jerusalem, they would send ahead of them [a messenger] and adorned their bikkurim. The overseers and the officers and the treasurers would go out to greet them; in accordance with the stature of those coming in would they go out. All the artisans of Jerusalem would stand before them and greet them, "Our brothers from so-and-so, come in peace!"

The flute would continue playing before them until they arrived at the Temple Mount. Once they arrived at the Temple Mount, even Agripas the King would carry his basket on his shoulder and enter until he reached the courtyard. Once they got to the courtyard, the Levites would speak in song (Psalms 30:2), “I will extol you, O L‑rd, because you have raised me and not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me.”1

Why was the commandment to bring the fruit accompanied with this great ceremony and a detailed declaration? After all, it was not the largest gift that the farmer was required to give, as the commandments of the tithings far surpassed the value of the few first fruits brought as bikkurim. What was so unique about bikkurim that the Torah sees it as the culmination and high point of all the Jewish trials and tribulations, going all the way back to our Patriarch Jacob?

Bringing bikkurim was more than the Jewish farmer’s token of appreciation to G‑d for the blessings of the harvest. In fact, the bikkurim were a symbol of the mission statement of the People of Israel. While many spiritual seekers choose to abandon the confines of the material world in order to transcend, the Torah teaches us that the purpose of creation is not to escape physicality but to sanctify it, not to abandon the work in the farm and the orchard, but to bring its first fruits to G‑d.

What is the purpose of the Jewish people? What is the purpose of all the ups and downs, challenges and triumphs of Jewish history? It is all in order that the Jewish people engage in the world and imbue it with spirituality. We take the first fruits of our field, the fruits of all our effort and labor, and bring them to Jerusalem, using the physical fruit to create a spiritual experience of joy and connection with G‑d.

This is not the first time the fruits of the Land of Israel take a place of prominence in the Biblical narrative. When the spies that Moses dispatched to scout the Land of Israel returned to the people with a negative report, they displayed the extraordinarily large fruit of the land, in order to convince the people that they would be unable to conquer the land, “just as its fruit are extraordinary, so too its people are extraordinary.”2 Chassidic philosophy teaches that the spies also presented a spiritual argument against entering the land. They argued that the fruit, and all the effort needed for its cultivation, would distract them from the service of G‑d. The material bounty, argued the spies, would pull them away from spirituality. Yet the spies were wrong. As Jews, we are not afraid of abundance; we sanctify it and use it to intensify our spiritual service.3

Thus, the farmer who takes the bikkurim to Jerusalem in a celebratory procession is doing more than offering gratitude. He is embodying the Jewish mission on earth. He is personifying all that Judaism teaches.4 He is sanctifying the mundane and elevating materialism. He is bringing his first fruits to Jerusalem.