Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


The father was not happy, to say the least. “What kind of report card is this? I have never seen such bad grades in my life. Are you not ashamed of your lack of progress and failing grades? This is simply a disgrace!” The young student looked up sheepishly, “So exactly what do you think the problem is - heredity or the environment?”

After Klal Yisroel vanquished the Canaanites, and conquered and divided the Land, all farmers were instructed to take “bikurim” - their first ripened fruits, up to the Bais Hamikdash in Yerushalayim and present them to the Kohain, in a ritual that included a passionate declaration of gratitude to G-d for His guidance, intervention, and omnipresence throughout history.
Bikurim symbolized a Jew’s complete subservience to G-d. A farmer toils in his field under the oppressive summer sun for much of the day throughout the summer. One can only imagine the great joy he feels when he sees the first fruits of his labor. It is those fruits, which are especially precious and dear to him, that he offers to the Kohain with recognition that all his success are a gift from G-d.
This mitzvah which demands such an emotional investment by the farmer, is so precious that it represents one of the purposes of Creation. On the first word of the Torah, “Bereishis”, Rashi notes that it can be read as, “b’shvil rayshis”, i.e. that the world was created for the sake of things that are referred to as ‘beginning’”.
The Medrash notes that one of the ‘commodities’ referred to as ‘rayshis’ is bikurim. The implication is that the purpose of Creation was to enable Klal Yisroel to dedicate and attribute all of their efforts and successes to the service of G-d.
The farmer brought his bikurim up to Jerusalem amidst great fanfare. The Mishna[1] describes the consecration process. “A man goes into his field and sees that a fig has ripened, a cluster (of grapes) has ripened, a pomegranate has ripened – he ties a blade of reed-grass around it and says, “Behold, these are bikurim!... All the people of the towns would assemble…early in the morning, the head of the town would announce, “Let us rise and ascend to Zion to Hashem, our G-d”…The bull would walk before them with its horns overlaid with gold and a wreath of olive branches on its head. The flute would play before them…until they reached the Temple Mount. When they reached the Temple Mount even King Agrippas would take the basket on his shoulder and enter, until he reached the courtyard….The Levites would recite a psalm…With the basket still on his shoulder he recites (a special declaration from the Torah)…he takes the basket off his shoulder and holds it by the edges, and the Kohain places his hand under it and waves it…He places it on the side of the Altar, prostrates himself, and exits.”  
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Friedman zt’l[2] notes that the Gemara[3] writes that when there is no Bais Hamikdash there is no mitzvah of bikurim. However, although we can no longer fulfill the mitzvah with real produce, we can still connect with the essence of the mitzvah in regard to the “fruit of our womb”, i.e. our posterity - our eternal produce.
When the farmer would enter his field and notice the first hint of ripening he would immediately mark the fruit and set it aside to be offered before G-d. The Gemara[4] states that as soon as a child has the ability to speak, his father is obligated to begin teaching him Torah. As soon as the “fruit” is ripe, it must be designated for a higher purpose.
When the farmer was ready to bring the fruits up to Jerusalem, he would place them “bateneh- in a basket”. The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh notes that the numerical value of the word “bateneh” is sixty, an allusion to the sixty tractates of the Talmud, which encompasses the entire Oral Law of the Torah. The father is obligated to immerse his son in the “basket” of Oral Law, and introduce him to his lifelong pursuit of Torah study.
When the farmer arrived at the Bais Hamikdash he would jovially transfer the fruits to the Kohain who would continue the process. A father too sends his child off to Yeshiva where the Rebbe becomes his emissary to imbue in his son with a love of Torah and mitzvos.
The Mishnah states, “When they reached the Temple Mount even King Agrippas would take the basket on his shoulder and enter, until he reached the courtyard.” Even a king whose dignity and honor is paramount must involve himself in this unique mitzvah, and even a king must involve himself in his son’s Torah study.   
Rabbi Friedman continues that there is an important caveat regarding the education of a child that the Mishna alludes to. When the farmer handed the bikurim to the Kohain, the farmer himself did not immediately relinquish possession of the basket. The Gemara[5] explains that the Kohain would place his hands underneath the hands of the farmer and they would perform the ritual waving in unison.
So too, when a father sends his son off to yeshiva to study Torah he must remember that, in doing so, he is not exempt from his responsibility to teach his son. The duty to teach a child Torah is primarily the responsibility of the father and that never changes. Rather, “the Kohain places his hands underneath the farmers”, i.e. the Rebbe places his “hands” underneath those of the father and they educate the child in unison.

At every bar mitzvah, the bar mitzvah boy’s father recites the blessing of “ברוך שפטרני מענשו של זה – Blessed is He who has exempted me from the punishment of this one.” Until his child’s bar mitzvah, a father bears the responsibility of educating his son and teaching him how to live a Torah life. Throughout those formative years the father is culpable for any failings of his son. Therefore, at his bar mitzvah, when the son reaches spiritual independence and responsibility, the father expresses his personal gratitude that his son has reached that milestone for it absolves him of that weighty responsibility.
While speaking at the bar mitzvah of the son of a student, Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l noted that not every father has the right to recite the blessing of Baruch shepitarani. It is only if he has properly and sufficiently educated his son and given him the tools he needs to develop into an ehrliche yid that he can be exonerated from that responsibility. But if a father did not fulfill that obligation that was incumbent upon him for the last thirteen years, and did not discipline and guide his son as befitting of a Torah Jew, then he remains culpable for his son’s failings into adulthood, and perhaps throughout his life.[6]  

When all is said and done it is the parents who are responsible for their child’s growth in Torah and Avodas Hashem. If we want our fruits to be sanctified, we must due all in our power to consecrate them in the most regal manner possible.    

 “The Kohain’s hands underneath the hands of the farmer”
“Behold, these are bikkurim!”

[1] Bikurim, chapter 3
[2] Rabbi of Agudas Hakehillos of Boston, Massachusetts during the early 1900’s. His sefer Shoshanas Yaakov contains a collection of his sermons
[3] Shekalim, chapter 8
[4] Succah 42a
[5] Menachos 61a
[6] Heard from Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman shlita (At that bar mitzvah Rav Pam added that it was such a pleasure to attend a bar mitzvah where the father was indeed able to confidently state the beracha, because he had indeed raised his son according to the path of Torah to the best of his abilities. 


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Savo Pirkei Avos, perakim 3-4
20 Elul 5772/September 8, 2012

During the break between camp and yeshiva I accompanied Chani to our family pediatrician for our almost two year old daughter Chayala’s appointment. After the doctor finished his examination he asked us if we had received the flu shot yet. Suddenly I felt like a little kid again in the doctor’s office staring at a needle about to receive a shot. But this time not only was my Mommy not there, my daughter wanted to see how well her big and tough Abba would do with the shot.
Thankfully both I and the administering doctor survived, with minimal injury to either of us. The best part of it of course was the Snoopy band-aid I got to cover the wound.
Afterwards I was contemplating what had just occurred. The doctor injected me with a controlled amount of the very disease I don’t want to contract, so that my body would develop and produce antibodies. In other words, he exposed me to the disease so that I could ultimately be protected from it.
That got me thinking of a new way to combat so many annoyances that we deal with. When construction crews build homes they should import a small family of termites. Then the house could develop antibodies and destroy any future termite infestations down the line. I hate to call myself a genius, but this is a revolutionary way to rid ourselves of roaches, mice, and bees. Just bring a few in at the beginning and the house will build up a natural resistance! What’s more, before a family moves in to a new home the workers can ensure that there are some plumbing issues, and a leak or two (they usually do that anyway).
Is it any less of a miracle that our bodies produce antibodies?
To be successful we must push ourselves to face our fears. That is our only hope to ultimately vanquish them. When we cower from things that scare us they become magnified in our minds and the fear intensifies. But when we face our fears with courage and conviction we will usually see that the greatest impediment was the fear itself.
Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt’l once noted that the difference between a hero and a coward is not that one is fearful while the other doesn’t. Only a fool would not feel some fear when confronted by dangerous and unknown situations. Rather the difference is that the coward recoils and hides from his fears, while the hero is propelled forward and strengthens himself to confront his fears.
The new year affords us an opportunity to begin again and confront things that inhibit our growth. But sometimes we need a shot in the arm to propel us forward. Then, when we see that we can overcome our resistance and premonitions, we’ll be able to realize that the sky’s the limit.

              Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
                R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425


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