“Mikra Bikkurim” a Ceremony Designed to Encourage Gratitude
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
The book of D’varim, the fifth book of the Torah, describes God in many places as a gracious giver of gifts to the people of Israel. For example, who has given rain and crops, blessings, cattle and sheep, towns, settlements, and the land of Israel.
At the same time, the book of D’varim is also concerned that these gifts could be taken for granted. That the people of Israel won’t feel grateful for them and will forget that God was the one who had given those gifts to them.
At the beginning of the book of D’varim we can find two examples of two kinds of situations where people might not be grateful with God.
1) Beneficial things we receive without any kind of effort
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land that He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to assign to you—great and flourishing cities that you did not build, houses full of all good things that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and you eat your fill, take heed that you do not forget the LORD who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” (Devarim 6:11-12)
This passage refers to the beneficial things the people of Israel received without any effort. “Cities that you did not build, houses full of all good things that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.” Here the concern is that the people will forget God because they are enjoying what God has provided them without any kind of effort.
This passage warns us that people who have always had everything provided for them, who have never had to work to enjoy life’s pleasures, can easily come to believe that they deserve everything they have. If I have everything coming to me, why should I be grateful when I receive it?
2) Beneficial things we receive with our effort
“When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the LORD your God—who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; and you say to yourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” Remember that it is the LORD your God who gives you the power to get wealth, in fulfillment of the covenant that He made an oath with your fathers, as is still the case.” (Devarim 8: 12-18)
This passage, by contrast to the first one, speaks about the wealth acquired by the people themselves. Here the worry is that the people will ignore God’s existence out of pride and reliance on one’s own power. These verses caution us about those who achieve great success, economic or otherwise, and arrogantly assume that they accomplished it all themselves, independent of God and of others.
In this week’s parashah, parashat Ki Tavo, the Torah introduces a liturgy called “Mikra Bikkurim” designed to combat ingratitude and forgetfulness. The farmers had to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple and recite a liturgy thanking God for all that he has given to them. Without a doubt, this ceremony encouraged the people to be aware of all what they had, with effort or without any effort, and being grateful for that.
We don’t bring the first fruits to the Temple and don’t recite “Mikra Bikkurim” nowadays, however, we should be grateful for everything we have, acquiring it either with effort or without effort.