Rabbi Welcome back from your sojourn in Connecticut. I understand you had a great time. But I have discovered that this might be the third podcast that I’m focused on Bikkurim so I must have the first fruits on my head. And I’ll, I’ll let out a secret because it will come out during the podcast that the parsha, literally the parsha. The section of the Torah that is designated by the Masoretic text as a section, actually plays a critical role in the Passover Haggadah, and maybe that’s at the bottom of my absolute, infatuation with it. But here we are, I think if you look back at some other podcasts, we’ve talked about it before, we’re going to do it from a new angle, we’re going to look at it through history, how it developed and where it came, as I said in the intro, it gets up to today to even conversions and we obviously have on our podcast, one of the preeminent experts on conversion. So Rabbi, welcome back to be Bikkurim one more time,
Adam Mintz 02:15
can wait this is a good topic, fantastic.
Geoffrey Stern 02:19
So we’re in Deuteronomy a 26. And as we’re used to; Deuteronomy is all about coming into the land. It says, When you enter the land that your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it, you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that your God is giving you, put it in a basket, and go to the place where your God will choose to establish the divine name, you shall go to the priest in charge in that time בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֑ם and say to him, I acknowledge this day, הִגַּ֤דְתִּי הַיּוֹם֙ before God, that I have entered the land that God swore to our fathers to assign to us לַאֲבֹתֵ֖ינוּ לָ֥תֶת לָֽנוּ , the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down in front of the alter of your God. You shall then recite as follows וְעָנִ֨יתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ before your god, my father was a fugitive Aramean. it sounds a little bit like the Haggadah אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י . And he went down to Egypt with meager numbers, and sojourned there. But there he became a great and populous nation, the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, וַיְעַנּ֑וּנוּ and oppressed and imposed heavy labor upon us and we cried to a God וַנִּצְעַ֕ק אֶל־ה , the God of our ancestors. And God heard our plea. וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע ה’ אֶת־קֹלֵ֔נוּ and saw our plight וַיַּ֧רְא אֶת־עׇנְיֵ֛נוּ and oppression. He freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand בְּיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ and an outstretched arm וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֔ה and awesome powered וּבְמֹרָ֖א גָּדֹ֑ל and signs and portents, וּבְאֹת֖וֹת וּבְמֹפְתִֽים The reason I have been translating word for word is for those of you who have read the Haggadah, the main portion of the Haggadah, which is called Magid actually spends time on each of those raises that I have said in Hebrew, and that is the core of the Seder the Haggadah, the Magid section, but then it goes on. And then you bring us to this place, giving us this land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which you God have given me, you shall leave it the basket before your God and bow low before your God. And you shall enjoy together with the family of the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that your God has bestowed upon you, and your household. End of parsha. We always talk about parshat hashavua, but for those of you who have been following our understanding of the Masoretic text, whether it’s the Aleppo Codex, or it’s the codex that recently got for sale in Sotheby’s, there are parshiot; there are sections in the Masoretic text. And what we just read was a complete section called be Bikkurim. Now in Exodus 23: 19, it says it much quicker, it says the choice first fruits of your soil, you shall bring to the house of your God, and then it goes on, and you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. So it’s a much more flippant reference to what in Devarim, in Deuteronomy is a really a recitation of what some people believe, I’d love to know, your impression of this rabbi, is one of the oldest preserved ritual recitations that we have preserved in the Torah. This Bikkurim.
Adam Mintz 06:59
There’s no question that’s right. I was actually going to comment on two words at the beginning of the recitation, וְעָנִ֨יתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ now the word the Anita, the word “ana” means to respond. But it doesn’t make sense in that context here. And you shall respond, and you shall say, it sounds like that there was some kind of responsive, you know, calling Like, how did the people know the words, it’s like the Cohen would stand there, and he would recite the words and people would respond back. It was like responsive readings that you have in shul on Rosh Hashannah. So if you can just imagine what that scene was, like, people didn’t even know this text, and people were responding to someone who was calling out this text, it really must have been very, very dramatic.
Geoffrey Stern 07:55
So you know, again, one of the answers to the question that is haunting me of how this paragraph, this ritual that is associated with Shavuot, not Passover, ended up being the core of the Haggadah, some of the answers are, that it was something as you say, that was this responsive dialogue that in a sense, almost became memorialized that people kind of remembered. But again, you started by saying it has this word for v’Anita answering and that kind of resonates with what happens in the Haggadah, when we ask questions, and then it says, and so you shall answer. And of course, the other word that reminds us of the Haggadah. It says, in English, I acknowledge this day before you God, but in the Hebrew it says הִגַּ֤דְתִּי הַיּוֹם֙ Haggadah. So there is a lot here that references and resonates with a another very core ritual in Judaism. So we have almost, we really have nothing from the services of Yom Kippur and Rash Hashannah but here we have in this Bikkurim, something that really is an ancient anchor to both smooth oat a giving the first fruits and in an ironic way to on to the Haggadah, and you’ve got to believe it’s because it had so much power, because it had so much purchase power amongst our people. You’ve got to believe that… that we’re studying a very powerful and important core Parsha.
Adam Mintz 09:54
Yeah, there’s no question. That’s right. And I think you’re right, the Anita vi Marita, this was this I mean, the term we use today is this was a ritual. And rituals are they weren’t that many rituals in the Torah, you know, you have the sense that receiving the Torah kind of had that ritual sense of standing there listening to God. But here, it’s a human ritual. Here, it’s the people reciting this text. It’s very, very powerful. I agree with you.
Geoffrey Stern 10:19
I mean, we have Mah Tovu, and we have the priestly blessing. But there isn’t that much like
Adam Mintz 10:26
I want to tell you, those two things, we use them as ritual, but they’re not actually rituals in the Torah, the torah doesn’t say that they need to be recited.
Geoffrey Stern 10:38
Perfect, I get it. So a lot of the next portion of what we’re going to discuss was inspired by one of my go-to favorite web pages thetorah.com. I invite you to look at the source sheet, but also every week to go there because it’s a wonderful marriage of Academia, scholarship and marrying it to the Parsha of the week. And this particular article is called Bikkurim, how the rabbi’s made a mitzvah for male landowners more inclusive, and it’s by Rabbi Yosef Blach from Yeshivat Hakotel. And I would always consider your Shiva tech hotel to be one of these Zionist nationalistic institutions. But as you can see from the title, he’s talking about inclusivity. So we are listening. So what he does is he goes through the rabbinic texts, and what he tries to do is trace how the texts that we just read started as being part of a tradition that was very exclusive, and through history, and rabbinical interpretation became very inclusive. So he starts by quoting the Sifrei Bamidbar. And it starts by saying, The Lord said to Aaron, “in their land, you will not inherit and you will not have a person in their midst”. So he’s talking to the tribe of Levi. I am your person in your inheritance in the midst of the children of Israel. Why is all of this stated because it is written to thee shall the land be proportioned, I would think that everybody is included Cohanim, Leviim, Israelites, proselytes women, bondsmen tumtum, those of uncertain sexes, and I mean, we’re talking about gender identity here in the Midrash. And it says, and therefore the Lord said to Aaron, in their land, you will not inherit. So this excludes the Kohanim. But in the midst of the children of Israel, the Levites shall not inherit. This excludes the Levites. By the names of the tribes of their fathers, they shall inherit this excludes bondsman, and proselytes and gerim. And finally, it says, A man according to his numbers, shall have inheritance given this excludes. I don’t know why the translation does not include women. But obviously it says a man, it excludes women, and it excludes those with questionable sexual identity. So according to the Sifrei Bamidbar, which our Rabbi Bloch begins with the starting point is that everybody except a Jewish male landowner, is excluded from all of these things, including you would expect this ability to come in front of the Cohen with the first fruits. Then he goes to the filter the rabbi Ishmael L. And it gets there into the first of the fruits in your land. So quoting this concept is focus on your land to exclude from the mitzvah of bikkurim, tenant farmers renters, thieves and extortionists. So now we’re starting to get a list of the other, of the outsiders of the people who are not the landowners, which the Lord swore to your fathers to exclude gerim, proselytes and avadim, servants, which the Lord your God gives to you singular to exclude women, tumtum and hermaphrodite. So again, we have this focus on what we just read as a very just kind of open story of giving thanks to God as being very exclusive. What Rabbi Bloch says is, but the rabbis start to parse. So the rabbis asked, Does this imply that they’re excluded from reading the Bikkurim declaration or from bringing the fruit? It is therefore written in Exodus? Shall you bring in any event? What is the difference between the former and the later, the former bring and read the later bring and do not read. So according to this Rabbi Yosef Blach, we’re already seeing a nuance in the tradition, where the original tradition would have implied that either you’re in or you’re out. As my friend Michael Posnik has a beautiful song about now we’re talking about? Well, there are certain people that can both say the recitation, in today’s lingo, it would be make the bracha and then there were other people who can just go through the actions. So it’s fascinating rabbi, if you follow if you read this article from Rabbi Bloch, that he uses this text of Bikkurim as a study in the evolution of who can say thank you, who can bring the first fruits. It’s kind of a fascinating insight into how Torah develops, don’t you think?
Adam Mintz 16:32
Very, very interesting. I mean, yes. I mean, and this is classic rabbinics, because this stuff is not really in the text. But the rabbi saw the text as having a life of its own. And if the Torah says something, you know, what doesn’t it say? What is it coming to include? What is it coming to exclude, so it’s kind of classic Rabbinics here, which is fascinating.
Geoffrey Stern 16:56
Now, if you recall, when we reviewed, Jeffrey Fox’s for Maharat’s Teshuvah on lesbian relationships. One of the complaints of many religious lesbian women in Judaism is that they are almost a footnote that they’re not really mentioned. And I think you really do have to give credit to the rabbis. So far, we have quoted two old ancient rabbinic texts. One is the Sifrei and the other is the mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, and both of them even though they’re excluding. And you know, we can’t say that in an understatement. But they go to the trouble of talking about and an Androgynous and hermaphrodite. . And it’s almost as though they are recognizing people who have questions about gender identity. I think you have to give them a little bit of credit, don’t you think?
Adam Mintz 17:52
Yeah, that is interesting. I didn’t think of that. That’s very, very interesting. Yes, you do have to give them credit.
Geoffrey Stern 17:57
So it goes on, and then in Mishnah in Bikkurim and now we’re talking about a much older text. In in 1: 4 It says, These bring the Bikkurim but do not read the declaration, the convert, since he cannot say “which the Lord has sworn to our fathers to give us.” However, if his mother was an Israelite, then he brings Bikkurim and recites. And then it goes on to say that forget about be Kareem. When you pray in general, when a convert prays privately, he says, God of our fathers of Israel, but when he is in the synagogue, he should say, the God of your fathers, but if his mother was an Israelite, he says, The God of our fathers. So first and foremost, before we get into the weeds, it’s fascinating that this beautiful ritual of giving the first fruits is bringing up all of these distinctions of who gets to bring the first foods and brings us right to the core of the matter of who is a Jew who is a belonger. Who is one
Adam Mintz 19:20
who is part of the community,
Geoffrey Stern 19:22
yeah, part of the community. And as we shall see much later, there are discussions being held today about what decides whether you are a Jew is it you solely if you have a Jewish mother, or what happens if you have a Jewish father, and here already we are getting and we shall see they quote, these questions of what you can say in terms of when you say this Shmona Esrai… Elohenu v’elohei avoteinu, my parents, my father, what can you say if you opt into Judaism, it’s kind of interesting that it all happens with Bikkurim. But maybe that’s why it has so much power. I don’t know, do you find it kind of interesting.
Adam Mintz 20:11
It is interesting. And I think it related to the point you made at the beginning, that this is one of the only rituals that we have in the Torah. You know, it’s so interesting that you, you, you made that point about sensitivity to those people who are marginalized. And that is, whenever you have a ritual, even if you talk about shuls, it’s always a question who’s included? Who’s excluded? Are women included? Are women excluded? Are gays and lesbian included? Are they excluded? Whenever you have a ritual, you’re always going to have the question of who’s included and who’s excluded. Right? The truth of matter is in America, you have the same thing voting, right? The fact that the Blacks were excluded from voting, that’s a ritual and they were excluded.
Geoffrey Stern 20:53
Yeah, I mean, you know, unfortunately, so much of defining who we are, depends on defining who we’re not. That’s a sad commentary. But it is a true commentary. So this rabbi, Yosef Bloch uses the text that I’ve just bought that start to pause that start to split hairs, and just talk about, well, who is entitled to say this? What happens if your mother was an Israelite? I mean, it’s kind of interesting. When it says if your mother was an Israelite, here, we’re talking about a ritual formula that talks about my forefathers were and now we’re kind of getting into what will what happens if your mother is an Israelite meaning to say that your father was not? It almost is an open-ended question. What happens if your father was an Israelite and your mother was not, but what he sees is that the rabbis are starting to open, open the gates open the definition, open the exclusion and make the exclusion more inclusive. And he writes this distinction between bringing the Bikkurim and offering a recitation is not in the text. The Rabbi’s are thus forced to artificially graft this distinction onto a verse that implicitly assumes that Levites women and slaves didn’t bring Bikkurim at all, because it’s so focused on being a landowner. And in that society, I assume a landowner was a Jewish Israelite male. Why do the rabbi’s take this approach asks Bloch. In other words, why do they assume that everyone and not just as Israelite males brings Bikkurim. He goes sociological, anthropological, he says biblical society was largely agrarian in which native Israelites owned farms and grew crops, Levites and non-Israelites did not own farms, and thus, would have been largely excluded from the practice of Bikkurim for practical reasons. rabbinical society, however, was heavily mercantile and city based, the average Jew including Levites, priests, and even sometimes, unmarried women, such as widows may have owned a house, but not a farm. This shift in meaning of the word ger was also responsible for the rabbinic interpretation. You know, Rabbi, we always have the discussion ger, in the Bible, we know means a stranger.
Adam Mintz 23:32
Geoffrey Stern 23:32
But in rabbinical tradition, it became to mean a convert,
Adam Mintz 23:37
But that’s not what it means in the Torah, right
Geoffrey Stern 23:37
It doesn’t. But it’s what the Buddha rabbinic texts started to perceive it to mean, as they moved into exile, and life was different. Wherever as the Temple has been destroyed, and no actual Mitzvah of the Quran was performed. The rabbis did not need to adjust any actual practice or Custom. Instead, they were free to re-envision Bikkurim in a way that made more sense for this society. So I find his whole approach to be fascinating. And then he goes on in the Jerusalem Talmud. It has a whole different aspect and reference to this. It says in Bikkurim 1: 4, it was stated in the name of Rebbi, Yehuda, the proselyte himself brings and makes the declaration. So unlike what we read a second ago where the proselyte can bring the B cream, but he can’t say “my father was a slave” or “my father was a descendant of Jacob” is clear. What is the reason? He says For I made you the father of the multitude of Gentiles. He goes back to Genesis that talks about Abraham and Sarah as being the mother and the father of a multitude of nations in the past you were the father of Aram. From now onwards you will be the father of all Gentiles. Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi said practice follows Rabbi Yehuda and we with the prayers to be recited by gerim him since the Bavli does not take up the problem. It agrees that they can say, Elohenu v’elohei avoteinu. So here. Again, though you saw me uses our text of B Kareem. As a point of departure to bring going right back. We’re in devotion. But many times we’re pointing back to Genesis again and again, Abraham who was the father of all nations. So again, it’s this lovely, this evolution that takes this thing that was exclusive, and makes it so profoundly inclusive. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Adam Mintz 25:59
That’s absolutely fascinating. And you know that that’s the power of how you mold these things, and how they evolve over time.
Geoffrey Stern 26:09
And of course, our friend Maimonides, these quotes, Ovadia, the Convert who your wife, Sharon, when she talked about the Sassoon codex.
Adam Mintz 26:18
That’s funny. That’s correct. Yeah.
Geoffrey Stern 26:20
So he quoted this context. And so really, what this does is, it’s a fascinating study in Bikkurim. And as I said, I got the devar Torah from Rabbi Riskin in this week, from Ohr Torah. And Rabbi Riskin is very involved in making it easy for especially Russian Jews who came to Israel, many of them whose mothers may not have been 100% Jewish, fought in the IDF. And he is involved in making it easier for them to be accepted within Judaism, not necessarily having to go through all the hoops of conversion, because it’s more of a coming home ritual than a conversion. And he begins by saying, the Jew begins his declaration with the words, my father was a wandering Aramean. Meaning to say that patrilineal descent is important, that’s where he brings this to be. And he brings it up until Teshuvot were written in 2012. About zera Yisrael, that we are all people in the largest sense of the word. And so I think, at the end of the day, what infatuates me with Bikkurim is a very simple Mishnah in Pesachim, that says that you should talk to every child according to their intelligence, according to their sophistication, according to their sense of nuance. And you should begin with the Jewish people’s disgrace, and conclude with their glory. And you should start by reading our parsha in Deuteronomy, an Aramean tried to destroy my father or my father was lost are an end, go till the end, go till the end, where it says that you should give these fruits and they should be for the Levite. And they should be for the stranger, I think, ultimately, Rabbi, that what Bikkurim became was a case study in how through the evolution of rabbinic interpretation, and living and experience, we have learned to be open and accepting. And the idea that you have to read it till the end means both that you have to reader it till the end of the Pasha, which talks about the stranger, but also read it till the end, watch it, as it flows through Jewish history. And this ritual of Bikkurim. That was supposed to be only for Shavuot and you could do it until Sukkot afterwards, you had to do it without a bracha ultimately landed in Passover. And I think that ultimately, what is Passover, if not a meal, where we say “everyone who is hungry, come and join us”. So I don’t know, I look at the scholarly study that is in the thetorah.com that talks about over time and over history, this ritual became larger. And I also look at my own personal proclivity to question why is it the core of the Passover Seder, and I think it all has to do with the same thing that we’re taking the ancient that many times is very small, and we make it large. And that to me is the greatest speaker him the greatest new fruit and the greatest offering.
Adam Mintz 30:14
That’s fantastic. What a great what a great topic we talked about coming to the end of the year. And you know, the parsha… the parsha is rich with so many interesting things. And you know, today it was rich, not only with Bikkurim but actually analyzing the way the rabbi’s address these kinds of issues. And I think that’s so, so fascinating. So thank you so much, Geoffrey, and we should everybody should have a Shabbat Shalom, a wonderful holiday weekend. And we look forward to studying Nitzavim and Vayelech next week with you Shabbat Shalom to everybody.
Geoffrey Stern 30:50
Shabbat shalom. Can’t wait to see you next week. Well, the best Lauren,
Loren Davis 30:55
this is a sophomoric question. In my second year of studying; going through it through the Torah, my understanding was that Bikkurim was not a topic until the Jews, the Israelites entered Israel. It was a fulfillment of the promise to our forefathers that there would be a homeland for the Jews. And when they got there, this became something that surfaced as a ritual. We’ve seen sacrifices, non-meat sacrifices, and we’ve talked about giving portions of the field to the needy. And I guess my question is, how different is Bikkurim than what we’ve already seen in other books of the Torah.
Geoffrey Stern 31:51
So it’s not altogether clear that it’s a sacrifice, you bring this basket in front of God. And at the end, it says וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֣ בְכׇל־הַטּ֗וֹב אֲשֶׁ֧ר נָֽתַן־לְךָ֛ ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֖יךָ וּלְבֵיתֶ֑ךָ אַתָּה֙ וְהַלֵּוִ֔י וְהַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ׃ . You shall rejoice with your family, and the Levite and the stranger and all the bounty that God has bestowed upon you. I mean, this is as close to our Thanksgiving as you can get. So it’s not even clearer if it is a sacrifice, although it does say, not only when we get into the land, but when we get to אֶל־הַמָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ to that place. So it was temple oriented, it certainly was land oriented. But I think the point of this rabbi Bloch, who I quoted, was that once we llost the land and the Temple, this kind of became something that gave the rabbi’s license to, to to do what they wanted to do. And it was clear that they wanted to do was to enlarge the tent and open the tent. And that I thought was kind of fascinating. But you know, to address your question, this seems to be different. And you know, you have in the Torah many kind of independent traditions and threads, and Bikkurim is isolated on its own. I mean, I think in that in that verse in Exodus, where it mentions it almost trivially along with not seething a goat in its mother’s milk, you get a sense that it was independent of the whole priestly cult and the there’s a certain purity about it of bringing a basket of fruits and going to the Cohen. I didn’t get into the verses that go focus on why it says the Cohen “at that time”. And in the well the text say You know, it’s the Cohen that was there that week. It’s the Cohen that is available at your time, even if it turns out that he may be isn’t a pure Cohen. There’s something I think isolated about the Bikkurimritual that gives it a sense of purity and you don’t have to really look at it within the context of the whole temple or tabernacle cult, if that answers your question. Anyway, Michael, how are you today?
Michael Posnik 34:33
Baruch Hashem Geoffrey so nice to hear your voice and thank you for the plug about the song. I thought that was very nice. But I was struck by this inclusion know this Rabbi into all kinds of Jews. Both sis-Jews and non-sis Jews and hermaphrodites and all of that and so I looked up some of the Bikkurim to see whether those trees were when monoecious or Monocots or Dicots. And because the fruits themselves have to be representative of something as well. So just for information’s sake pomegranates are both genders figs can be either/or grapes are Dicots cultivated raisins are hermaphroditic, but wild raisins are Dicots, and olives are monoecious; monocots. So, it just struck me that the basket of fruit is really representative of all the people as well.
Geoffrey Stern 35:54
I love the focus on the basket I had overlooked at completely, but that’s what a basket is, isn’t it? It collects all the fruits together, and they all have to get along.
Michael Posnik 36:08
So thank you for tonight, and may we all be included in every basket that’s being offered?
Geoffrey Stern 36:16
Let us always be thankful. And I think the other part of this is that it almost makes being thankful, as a zechut (privilege) as something that you have to be Zoceh to. And I think you have to earn it. And so on the one hand, there’s something about that, that is repugnant to me because I think that the the beauty of Giving thanks is that any human being any person any being should be able to show gratitude. But on the other hand, what I love about it is that it raises gratitude to such a high level as something that is aspirational, that you have to aspire to be able to give gratitude. And I think that at the end of the day, anything that can put gratitude on an on a pedestal is good for me. And again, to quote your wonderful song are you in or are you out? I think that in in terms of giving gratitude and providing Bikkurim, If we learned anything tonight, it’s anyone who is hungry, let them let them be grateful. And I think that’s ultimately what the rabbi’s did with this Bikkurim and that’s the ultimate transition and that’s at my Seder. I even though it’s kind of a technical thing, that you start with g’nut, you start with despair and humility, and you end with shvach… glory, the ultimate shvach, the ultimate praise is not who you’ve become, but who you can include and who you can share the bounty with. And I think that’s the ultimate message of Bikkurim. It’s the message of the liberation from Egypt. It’s the message of being a wandering Aramean and it’s our history and it’s what we should all aspire to. Great to have you along the road. Michael love to hear your voice. Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Look forward to seeing you all next week for Madlik disruptive Torah.