1. This week’s Torah portion begins with a description of the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the first fruits, and then continues with the mitzvah of making the declaration associated with the giving of the tithes. Afterwards, the Torah reading returns to the general thrust of the Book of Devarim, recapitulating and reemphasizing the commitment to the Torah as a whole.

This implies a connection between the two, i.e., that the mitzvah of bikkurim reflects in microcosm the Torah as a whole. This concept can be understood with the context of the explanation of the uniqueness of the expression of thanks associated with the mitzvah of bikkurim. By giving bikkurim, a Jew reflects his awareness that the blessings which he receives emanate from G‑d. To emphasize his thankfulness for these blessings, he gives the first and the best produce of his field as an offering to G‑d. Furthermore, he makes a public statement of his thanks before G‑d in the Beis HaMikdash.

The concept of expressing thanks to G‑d is one of the fundamental principles of Jewish life. Thus we begin each day with an expression of thanks, Modeh Ani, in which we gratefully acknowledge G‑d’s return of our souls. This, our first act of the day, serves as the foundation for all of our subsequent conduct which includes many blessings and expressions of thanks, for example, the blessing Modim or the Grace after Meals.1

The importance of thanking G‑d is further emphasized by the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that the creation of the world is renewed every moment. This reflects the unbounded nature of G‑d’s kindness. The comprehension of this idea should arouse an unbounded and deepfelt expression of gratitude on the part of man, for he realizes how the totality of existence is dependent on G‑d’s kindness at every moment.

The mitzvah of bikkurim is unique in that while observing it, a Jew expresses his thanks to G‑d, not only in his speech, but also in his deed. He brings his first fruits to the Beis HaMikdash and “places them down before G‑d, your L‑rd.”

This expresses how the entire earth belongs to G‑d. A Jew does not content himself with merely recognizing this concept; he demonstrates this appreciation in his deeds by giving his first fruits to G‑d and doing so in a way that, even afterwards, they remain as consecrated property. Through performing this service a Jew increases his potential to appreciate G‑d’s kindness and causes these feelings to be more deeply internalized. And thus he comes to the realization that everything that he owns in essence belongs to G‑d and that he is constantly standing “before G‑d your L‑rd.”

Bikkurim are also used as an analogy for the Jewish people. For the Jews are G‑d’s first fruits, as it were. I.e., just as the first fruits came into being before all others, so too, the existence of the Jews preceded the existence of the world at large; “The conception of the Jewish people preceded all things.” Indeed, the entire world was created for the sake of the Jewish people as our Sages commented on the word bereishis. More significantly, each and every Jew, man, woman, or child “is obligated to say, ‘The world was created for me.’ ”

Just as the first fruits were brought to the Beis HaMikdash in Jerusalem, the true place for every Jew is “before2 G‑d your L‑rd,3 “ in the Beis HaMikdash. For the essential aspect of a Jew’s existence is his soul, “an actual part of G‑d from Above;” “Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one.” In this respect, there is no difference between one Jew and another.

The above concepts affect, not only our lives in general, but every particular dimension of them. Every aspect of our existence is bikkurim to be offered to G‑d. This implies that a Jew should not conceive of his commitment to G‑d as involving only Torah study and the fulfillment of mitzvos. Instead, every aspect of his conduct, since it is the conduct of a Jew, should be permeated with holiness, should be carried out as befitting a person who is in the presence of G‑d.

Every single thought, word, or act — although it seemingly resembles other thought, words, or acts of this world — since it is performed by a Jew is in fact, bikkurim, a first fruit offering to G‑d. Since a Jew is totally at one with G‑d, every dimension of his life must contain a fundamental purpose. Each thought, word, or deed is not merely an intermediary leading to another goal, but has a self-contained purpose of its own and relates to the ultimate goal of the creation as a whole.4 Even when an action appears insignificant in nature, all the above concepts apply. Thus, to extend the analogy, such can figuratively be considered as bikkurim offered by a Jew in the Beis HaMikdash. Wherever a Jews goes, he must realize that it is “from G‑d, man’s steps are plotted out;” he comes to a place at a certain time to infuse holiness into that time and that place.5

By living his life in a manner of bikkurim, not only does a Jew thankfully acknowledge G‑d’s kindness, he causes the physical entities he offers to G‑d to become sanctified and holy. In contrast to a verbal expression of thanks to G‑d, where the created beings and G‑d remain two separate things, through bikkurim, creations in this material world become permeated with G‑dliness. In this manner, it is revealed how the Jews are the bikkurim of the entire world, the purpose and focal point of the totality of existence.

In this manner, we can appreciate the relationship between bikkurim and the Torah and its mitzvos as a whole. Bikkurim express the purpose of the Torah and its mitzvos; they show that as a Jew exists as a soul within a body in this material world, he can be totally united with G‑d, “Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one.”

There is an additional dimension to the above concept. The description of the Jews as bikkurim also applies in regard to the Torah. As cited above, commenting on the word Bereishis, our Sages stated that the world was created for the sake of two entities that are called reishis, “first,” the Torah and the Jewish people. Moreover, our Sages comment:

Two entities preceded the existence of the world, the Torah and the Jewish people. I don’t know which [of the two] came first. Since [the Torah] states, “Speak to the children of Israel,” “Tell the children of Israel,” I would assume that the Jewish people came first.

Since the Torah is a collection of commands to the Jewish people, it follows that the Jews possess a certain prominence even over the Torah itself. This does not, however, mean that Israel’s precedence over the Torah is not at all related to the Torah. Since the Jews and the Torah are one,6 the higher level possessed by the Jewish people is also reflected within the Torah.

To explain: Jews are connected with the Torah; it is “our life and the length of our days.” Simultaneously, the Torah is associated with the Jewish people, for as mentioned above, the Torah is a collection of commandments for the Jews to observe.

Thus, the concept of the Jews’ precedence over the Torah has to be understood as a cause and effect relationship, i.e., the Torah was given for the sake of the Jewish people and therefore, a danger to a Jew’s life supersedes the observance of all the mitzvos. For the fulfillment of the Torah is impossible without the Jews. Thus for the existence of the Torah, it is necessary that there be Jews who accept and fulfill it.

In contrast, there is a possibility for the Jews to exist without the Torah, heaven forbid, as our Sages stated, “Even when a Jew sins, he remains a Jew.” Similarly, through teshuvah (which taps the essence of a Jew’s soul), it is possible for him to reach a higher level in the service of G‑d than through Torah observance.

Nevertheless, in essence, a Jew is one with the Torah. For a Jew is one with G‑d, and the Torah and G‑d are one. This oneness is reflected in the Rambam’s statements that the true desire of every Jew, even one who outwardly appears to want to violate Torah law, is “to fulfill all the mitzvos and separate himself from sin.”

Normally, this essential desire is revealed by the Torah itself. I.e., through a Jew’s study of the Torah and fulfillment of its commandments, he reveals his fundamental nature. There is, nevertheless, the possibility for the essence of the Jewish soul — the level that is higher than the Torah — to be revealed without the medium of the Torah. This comes about through the service of teshuvah.

In this context, we can understand the Zohar’s statement, “Three bonds are connected one with the other, the Holy One, blessed be He, Israel, and the Torah.” The question is frequently asked: When three entities are connected with each other, there are only two bonds (in this instance, seemingly, a bond between the Jews and the Torah and a bond between the Torah and G‑d). Why does the above-mentioned quote speak of three bonds?

Among the resolutions to this question is the explanation that there exists a direct connection between the Jews and G‑d that does not require the medium of the Torah. On the contrary, from this perspective, the Jews are higher than the Torah and connect the Torah to G‑d on a deeper level.

This implies two states of interrelationship between G‑d, the Torah, and the Jewish people. There is one level which emphasizes the Jews’ existence within the limitations of our material world. On this level, the Jews require the Torah to establish their connection with G‑d. There is, however, an essential level at which the essence of the Jew is one with the essence of G‑d. From this perspective, the Jews are above the Torah and therefore, have the potential to reveal new dimensions of Torah.7

As reflected in the potential for teshuvah, this essential connection between a Jew and his G‑dly source exists not only in the spiritual realms, but in this material world. And therefore, every Jew, even a common person who has not studied the Torah, “is obligated to say, ‘The world was created for me.’ ” Regardless of his level of personal development, he is related to the essence of G‑d and thus, he is the purpose of all existence. Thus a Jewish child who has not reached the age to study the Torah — and similarly, an adult who through no fault of his own, but because of G‑d’s All-knowing Providence, grew up without studying the Torah — represents the bikkurim of the world. He is above all things — even the Torah — and everything, including the Torah, was brought into being for his sake.

To summarize: There are two approaches in our relationship to G‑d:

a) The ordinary relationship with G‑d established through the Torah and its mitzvos. In this context, Torah study is of primary importance, for the observance of the mitzvos is dependent on it. Therefore, we are obligated to study the Torah in every moment of our free time.

b) The relationship between the Jews and G‑d which stands above the Torah. From this perspective even when a Jew — through no fault of his own — has no obvious connection to the Torah, he shares a bond with G‑d. Furthermore, this inner bond will ultimately bring him close to the Torah.

The unique aspect of bikkurim is also expressed in the declaration recited when bringing bikkurim. In that declaration, the Jews recount G‑d’s kindness to the Jewish people from the very first stages of their existence. Although Lavan desired to destroy Yaakov and the Jews suffered persecution and oppression in Egypt, G‑d preserved the Jews, redeemed them, and brought them to Eretz Yisrael. Significantly, this took place before the giving of the Torah. Since, as explained above, the Jews are by nature G‑d’s bikkurim, even before they established a bond with G‑d through the Torah, they were granted this unique expression of Divine favor.

Based on the above, we can appreciate the inner meaning of one of the halachic requirements of bikkurim. Our Sages relate that it is necessary to bring bikkurim in a container. The rich would bring their bikkurim in containers made of gold and silver. Therefore, the container was not considered as secondary in importance to the fruit. Accordingly, after the offering of the bikkurim, the priests would return the container to the owner. In contrast, the poor would bring their bikkurim in wicker baskets. As such, the container was considered as secondary in importance to the fruit and therefore, sanctified together with them.

These laws can be explained as follows. The revelation of the Jews’ position as G‑d’s bikkurim requires involvement in the world, a connection with a “container.”8 In a personal sense, this refers to the service of the soul within the body. When this service is carried out with simple worldly articles, the lowest elements of this world, a higher dimension of revelation is revealed and the container, i.e., the worldly objects with which our service is carried out, become totally unified with that service to the extent that they also remain “before G‑d your L‑rd.”

Based on the above, we can understand the connection between bikkurim and the totality of the Torah and its mitzvos. As mentioned, bikkurim symbolizes the essential quality of the Jewish people which is the foundation of the entire Torah and mitzvos. Since the Jews share such an essential bond with G‑dliness, G‑d establishes a covenant with them which is expressed through the Jews’ observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.

In this context, we can understand the inner connection between bikkurim and Parshas Ki Savo. Ki Savo, “when you enter,” points to the necessity for a Jew to invest himself in his activities, to appreciate that every moment of his life has the potential to reflect the ultimate purpose of existence. Through such an approach he generates the potential for his life and for his environment to become bikkurim, thanksgiving offerings to G‑d.

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2. The month of Elul is a time when every Jew feels an individual closeness with G‑d. This is reflected in the allegory of the Alter Rebbe who compares G‑d’s relationship with the Jews in Elul to a king who goes out to the field to greet his people, receiving each one with a shining and smiling countenance. The king does not establish any preconditions. Instead, he accepts each of his subjects as he is. In the analogue, this reflects G‑d’s willingness to accept every Jew regardless of his spiritual level. For, as explained above, every Jew possesses a fundamental G‑dly essence and shares a bond with G‑d that transcends the connection established through the Torah and its mitzvos.

In this context, we can come to a deeper understanding of the verse for which the name Elul serves as an acronym, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” This verse begins with the word “I” indicating that every Jew, as he exists within the context of his own self, has the potential to devote himself in a bond of love to G‑d. Developing such an attachment will in turn evoke an expression of Divine love. And since the relationship is begun through the efforts of the Jews (“I am my Beloved’s”), they will not regard this Divine favor as “bread of shame.”

Every Jew must have these thoughts in mind as he uses the month of Elul to make an account of his service9 in the previous year and prepare his service in the new year to come. For when he realizes the full extent of the potential which he possesses, he will understand its many different possibilities for expression. This is particularly true in the present time, the final twelve days of the year. For as explained on previous occasions, each of these twelve days possesses the potential to compensate and complete the service of one of the months of the previous year and prepare for the service of one of the months in the year to come.

And in this manner, we will prepare ourselves for shnas niflaos bakol, “a year of wonders in all things” and a year of niflaos binah, “wonders which will be understood.”10