Who's The Boss?
By Rabbi Moshe Spiegel
Parshas The conclusion of the Rambam's Mishna Torah rendition of the mitzvos has two important mitzvos, one which begets the other. These mitzvas are Bikkurim, which is the bringing forth of the first fruit, and vidui maser, which is a vow that all obligated tithes in the Shmita cycle were done according to Halacha.
Many questions come to mind, and exploration of them will develop a fundamental insight. First, why are these mitzvahs brought at the end of the Mishna Torah? What special significance do these mitzvos have relative to the preceding 611 mitzvos? Second, all mitzvos that are dependent on land apply only in Eretz Yisroel, and this is a known constant. Naturally, Bikkuirim cannot be performed before entrance into Eretz Yisrael. For mitvos that are entirely dependent on Eretz Yisroel, why do we need the Torah to add a pasuk to explain that there is a mitzvah in Eretz Yisroel of Bikkuirm, and, additionally, the pasuk asserts, this mitvah shall be performed when they enter into Eretz Yisrael? This is obvious! Third, let's think about the meaning of Vidiuy Ma'aser. This is a special a mitzvah to directly make a statement attesting to the halachic completion of certain mitzvahs, including Trumas, Ma'asers, and Bikkurim. The very announcement that these mitzvahs were completed according to halacha is a mitvah itself! Where else do we find a need to affirm that a mitzvah was properly performed, let alone a mitzvah that has the sole purpose of affirming another mitzvah? Last, and this might be the most troubling, the specifics of the mitzvah of Bikkurim are to take the first fruits of the seven fruits for which Eretz Yisrael is praised, bring them to the Bais Hamikdash and give them to the Kohen with much pomp and ceremony. Surely one can appreciate that the idea here is to show gratitude to the Creator for giving another crop. First fruits only have a unique significance to the individual farmer who worked towards their eventual harvesting. Why can't any fruits suffice to convey this message of thanks? Moreover, if there is nothing particularly special about these fruits to the receiving Kohen why deprive the farmer of them?
The answer lies in the general theme we see running through these mitzvos. By looking into what these mitzvos signify, one can understand the basic facts about our history and the core standards of our national mission. The purpose of G-d creating this world is for us to spread the glory of heaven. In order to adequately accomplish this feat we were given tools, one of them being our own homeland.
With this it can be understood why these mitzvos were given such prominence at the end of the Mishna Torah. Our second question is answered as well. There is an accent placed on the fact that these mitzvos are to be performed upon our arrival to Eretz Yisroel, to remind us of our purpose in receiving our land, to better fulfill our national mission through mitzvah performance. What separates man from the animal kingdom is the ability to speak. If one's words have no meaning he remains on par with the animal world. Therefore because of the primacy of these mitzvos, we are given a special mitzvah to verbally express that we did as we were told and are people, not animals. This answers our third point.
Last, it is now self-evident why we give our first fruits and of what meaning they have to the Kohen. Doing G-d's will implies we are subservient to Him. What allows Him to subjugate us is the fact that He created us with a specific purpose in mind. The land and its fruit are in effect His, lent to us to achieve our goals in this world. Had we kept these fruits for ourselves and not tithed our produce, we would be deprived of the opportunity to embed in our psyche the message that we are not the true owners. The Kohen, Chazal tell us, receives his gifts from G-d's table, as it were, not from the one bringing forth gifts. In truth all we are doing is giving the true 'Farmer' his own first fruits.