The Torah portion this week opens with the Mitzvah (Commandment) of Bikurim. Farmers would bring the first fruits of their field to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and present them as a gift to the Kohain (priest) serving in the Temple. It was a much anticipated and joyous event, as people would stand on the sides of roads leading to Jerusalem and through its streets, watching the grand procession of farmers with their decorated baskets and trays, while music rang out. Before handing his fruits to the Kohain, the farmer would declare his observance of the Mitzvah, and express his gratitude for bringing him and the Jewish people to the joyous occasion.
Upon completion of the Bikurim service, the Torah writes (Deut. 26:11), “And you shall rejoice in all the good which G-d has given you and your house — you, the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.” “All the good” cannot refer to the first fruits, for those were just given to the Kohain, so what does that refer to?
Many insights are offered to this cryptic expression, but a well-known, brilliant explanation is offered by the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh of Rabbi Chaim ben Attar ztl (1696-1743): “‘Good’ can only refer to Torah (Brachos 5a, Avos 6:3), for if people would sense the sweetness and delight of the Torah’s goodness they would pursue it with insanity and infatuation, and enough silver and gold to fill the world would be worth nothing to them, for the Torah contains in it all the goodness of the world.” The only proper way to conclude the Bikkurim celebration, in other words, is to engage in the study of Torah.
Many have experienced the joy of learning Torah, the satisfaction that comes with gaining clarity and understanding, but the Ohr HaChaim’s description of Torah makes it clear that those momentary experiences are only a small taste of the true Torah experience. There were survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust who, upon their liberation, had no other desire than to sit down with a book of the Talmud and study the sweet words and thoughts of the Torah. Many Torah scholars in our time have been known to lose themselves in their studies, completely absorbed in the Divine wisdom, oblivious to the passing of time or the happenings around them. They truly sense that the only thing in this world we can objectively describe as “good” is Torah.
A beautiful custom many have is that when their children are introduced to Torah for the first time, they drip honey on the letters of the Aleph Beis, the Hebrew alphabet, and teach the holy letters of the Torah to them as they lick the honey off of each one. It is an expression of our hopes that this child will have the opportunity to taste the sweetness of Torah. As we dip our apple in the honey this Rosh Hashanah as a sign of our hopes to be blessed with a sweet new year, we owe it to ourselves to also partake in the sweetest experience available in this world. May that intimate connection with the words of our Creator serve as a hopeful commencement of a sweet new year!