Parashat Ki-Tabo: Do it Yourself
The Torah in Parashat Ki-Tabo discusses the Misva of Bikkurim. During the times of the Bet Hamikdash, a Jew who grew fruits was required to bring the first fruits that ripened to the Temple and present them as a gift to the Kohen.
There is a fascinating Halacha relevant to Bikkurim that, while counterintuitive, provides us with a fundamental lesson concerning Torah life. Everyone who brought Bikkurim to the Mikdash had to bring the fruits in a basket. Surprisingly, though, it was only the baskets of the poor that were given to the Kohen together with the fruits. The wealthier Jews brought their Bikkurim in lavish, ornate baskets, and the Kohen took the fruits and allowed the people to keep their baskets. But when a poor man came with his Bikkurim in a simple, ordinary basket, the Kohen kept the fruits and the basket. The Talmud comments regarding this Halacha, "The poor get poorer" – the poor people lose more from this Misva than the wealthy ones do.
The obvious question arises as to why this should be the case. Shouldn’t the multimillionaire be the one to surrender his basket along with his fruits? Why does the Torah impose an additional financial burden specifically upon the poor man?
The answer lies in the well-known rule of "Rahamana Liba Ba’i" – Hashem wants, first and foremost, the heart, the sincere effort. Unlike in our professional lives, where results are what counts, when it comes to Torah the most important thing is the work and effort that we invest. As long as we sincerely work toward achieving results, God values our efforts regardless of our bottom-line achievements.
When a wealthy magnate brings his first fruits to Jerusalem, he walks into a shop in the hotel lobby, sees an exquisite silver bowl, pulls out his credit card to make the purchase, and asks the concierge to bring it to his room and place in it the fruits on the table. He later hops into a cab with his Bikkurim and brings it to the Bet Hamikdash. The poor man, however, walks into a florist shop, asks for some leftover leaves and twigs, and then spends several hours weaving them together into a makeshift basket for his Bikkurim. After all, this is all he can afford to do. When these two people come together to the Bet Hamikdash, the Kohen asks for the poor man’s basket. God cherishes the hard work and sacrifice that the poor man invested into this Misva, and it is therefore specifically his basket that the Kohen, as God’s representative, keeps. The wealthy man has certainly not done anything wrong. To the contrary, he has performed the great Misva of Bikkurim. But there is something special about the poor man’s basket, about the work and effort that he invested, and this is what the Almighty values the most.
Today, a person can arrange three lavish Shabbat meals by just picking up the phone and placing an order. The caterer does all the cooking, setting up, serving and cleaning. Nobody could criticize those who make Shabbat in this way; in fact, it is admirable to spend money for the honor of Shabbat. But at the same time, there is much to be said for the personal effort and toil, working hard to prepare Shabbat. Something is lost when we delegate the work involved in preparing for Misvot.
This is true regarding the Sukka, as well. Today, people don’t want to have a hassle, so everyone has "the guy" who builds their Sukka for them. And, Baruch Hashem, many people bring great honor to the Misva by hiring workers to build them magnificent Sukkot. But we must not overlook the value of personally involving oneself in the hard work of Misvot. Not everything should be delegated. Hashem cherishes not only the final result, but also the work we invest in the process.
The Arizal taught that when a person perspires for the sake of a Misva, those drops of perspiration are stored and serve as a means of atonement for all his sons. One Rabbi I knew would participate each year in the baking of Masot for Pesah, and specifically chose the job of standing next to the scorching hot oven, putting in and removing the Masot. He said that this way he perspires the most, thus maximizing his reward for involving himself in this great Misva.
When it comes to Misva performance, we should not always find the most convenient way, even if we can afford it. It is worthwhile to "weave our own baskets," to personally involve ourselves in the hard work, thereby demonstrating our love for the Misvot and our unwavering devotion to the One who commanded them.