At the conclusion of the ritual of bringing Bikkurim, one’s first fruits, and presenting it to the kohen in the Temple before the Altar, the last aspect one must fulfill is the directive, “You shall prostrate yourself before Hashem, your G-d”.
The Vilna Gaon alleges that this need to prostrate oneself fully is not specific to Bikkurim. Any time one frequents the Courtyard of the Temple, one is required to prostrate before Hashem.
Yet, this detail, to bow before G-d in the Temple, is only enumerated in the context of Bikkurim and nowhere else. It would seem that by choosing to place it specifically here, the Torah is intimating a special connection between these two subjects.
The Midrash relates how when Moshe foresaw the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of the bringing of Bikkurim he initiated that we should pray three times a day to fill this void. This is indicated in the verse in Tehillim (95 6), Come! Let us prostrate ourselves and bow, let us kneel before Hashem, our Maker. (תנחומא)
These three references; prostrate, bow, kneel, allude to the three daily prayers that embody the principle of Bikkurim. It seems clear that this detail, in particular, of bowing before G-d, the figurative portrayal of prayer, although tangential to the laws of Bikkurim, somehow encapsulate the essence of this special precept of Bikkurim and its correlation to prayer.
The Chida quotes the ‘great’ and illustrious 16th century Morrocan rabbinic leader, Rav Vidal Hatzarfati, who avers that similar to our bowing during the recital of Aleinu at the end of our daily prayers, prostrating before G-d asserts, ‘that we never consider our job done after having fulfilled our daily commitments, rather we exclaim our praise for the privilege of having been selected by Hashem, to be His lot.’ (חומת אנך)
The bringer of Bikkurim expresses exquisite gratitude for all the fortunate events of his life that enabled him to present his first bounty in tribute to G-d who ministered each detail, starting from as far back as the patriarchs leading up to this exalted moment.
A danger exists that a person may feel satisfied that he has paid his dues for that kindness by gifting his first efforts to the kohen. But that is where everything first begins. By bowing before G-d, man expresses his realization that this is not merely a token of thanks for all that he has received. Man takes his whole essence, placing it before G-d, offering his very being to the promotion of that special relationship we have, as distinguished from the other nations, to impact the world by maintaining that closeness with Him, as exhibited in our deeds, thereby effecting G-d’s benevolence towards the world through the agency of His beloved child.
On Rosh Hashana we introduce the blessings of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofros, by reciting Aleinu and not merely bending at our waists, but more fully prostrating ourselves on the ground in a fashion similar to what was done in the Courtyard of the Temple.
When describing the elevation-conferring that is brought on Rosh Hashana, rather than instructing והקרבתם עולה , and you shall ‘offer’ and elevation-offering, it states ועשיתם עולה , you shall ‘make’ an elevation-offering. The Midrash interprets this departure from the norm as indicating, ועשיתם , in its literal meaning - you shall make yourselves into an elevation-offering.
On Rosh Hashana we present our entirety before G-d, because we understand that we, like the first fruits, are also the ראשית, the first-fruit among the nations, with a unique role and mission.
Each day we recite the Aleinu prayer three times.
The prayer establishes that ‘It is our duty to praise the Master of all’. We then add: לתת גדולה ליוצר בראשית, which is loosely translated as: ‘to ascribe greatness to the Molder of primeval creation’.
The literal translation though is more accurately ‘to give greatness’. But how does one ‘give’ greatness?
Most often when we refer to G-d as the Creator, He is defined as the עושה מעשה בראשית, who makes the ‘work of creation’. Why is it absent here and what does it mean to the One who forms, בראשית, literally, ‘in the beginning’?
I recently read a fascinating idea quoted in the name of the remarkable Mashgiach, Rav Wolbe interpreting this phrase לתת גדולה ליוצר בראשית.
Too often, we minimize our significance in the eyes of Hashem, thinking, does He really care, or who are we to make a difference in this world? We belittle our abilities and our purposefulness.
We must think big. No one ever knows how even the smallest effort ripples its effect in the Heavens.
After concluding our set of prayers, hopefully focusing on Hashem’s love for us, and His confidence in us to perform His will, we conclude with Aleinu. We assert with full belief that it is indeed incumbent upon us to, ‘give greatness’, to present our talents, our abilities, our strivings, to Hashem, devoting ourselves completely in the knowledge of how much it means to Him.
May I humbly add, that is why we talk to the Creator of בראשית, One who created the world with the construct of ראשית, the notion of a nation that is ‘primary’ in its mission in elevating the world as only we can.
This is how we end our prayers and begin and continue in each of our days.
This is how we enter the blessings unique to Rosh Hashana, encouraged and uplifted in the relationship we have with Hashem, and empowered to accomplish what we were destined for, infused by the confidence of His belief in us.
It is time to ‘think big’!
צבי יהודה טייכמאן