By Rabbi Jonny Roodyn
Remember your first million? I wish I did!
But I do remember the birth of my first child like it was yesterday. Our first achievements fill us with a sense of accomplishment and pride, and rightly so. They are the culmination of a period of effort and anticipation and enjoyment is wholly justified.
The Torah has an interesting perspective on first achievements. They are considered special and even holy. This week’s Parsha opens with the mitzvah of bikkurim, first fruits. After months of hard work, the farmer finally sees his trees bear fruit. As he does so, he marks those first fruits and sets them aside as an offering to the Kohanim in the Temple.
That sounds so unfair and downright inconsiderate. Why can’t he enjoy the fruits of his labour and travel down to Jerusalem with some other offering at a more convenient time?
On reflection, this mitzvah contains a very powerful message. When we are at the pinnacle of our achievements, we are liable to become arrogant and think that we are the source of our own success. The Torah realises that such arrogance leads a person down a very destructive path, a path where he feels he is the master of his own destiny and woe betide anyone who gets in his way.
Bringing the first fruits to Jerusalem contains a powerful message for the farmer and for ourselves to internalise.
Precisely at the point where one could say ‘My strength and the might of my hand brought me all this wealth’, we are reminded that ‘You shall remember Hashem your God for it is He who gives you strength to make wealth’ (Devarim 8:17-18).
The realisation that material blessings come from above is truly humbling and teaches us we ought to use our resources responsibly, not just for ourselves but also to help others. We are invited to partner with God in perfecting his world.
He left the playing field wide open for us, not because he is incapable, but rather so that we can achieve true fulfilment.
The farmer can then enjoy the rest of his crop and take pleasure in his achievements, secure in his awareness that ultimately all material success comes from above.
This change in attitude helps him relate to his accomplishments, his environment and fellow humans in a more compassionate way.
• Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is an educator for Aish London