Shavuot is the third of the three biblical holy days, or the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. It is called “Shavuot”, or “weeks”, because it is celebrated at the end of the seven-week count from the beginning of Passover:
“You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 16:9-10 [NKJV]
The Torah has other names for the holiday: “Yom HaBikurim” (Day of the First Fruits), as it appears in Numbers 28:26, and “Hag HaKatzir” (the Feast of Harvest), as it appears in Exodus 23:16.
According to tradition, this is the day on which the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, so most of the customs of the holiday relate to Torah teaching, its acceptance, and Torah study.
It is customary to view Shavuot as the day on which the people of Israel were married to God on Mt. Sinai – and the Torah as the “Ketuvah”, or marriage agreement, which establishes our relationship with God.
We stand today together with all of the nation of Israel and try to imagine the electrifying atmosphere that encompassed Mt. Sinai as we too stood before God, saying, “we have heard and we will do.”
But the holiday of Shavuot is not only the “holiday of the giving of the Torah”, it is also, and perhaps most importantly, “the Holiday of the First Fruits.” In our faith life we mostly concentrate on the concept of receiving the Torah. We read the Torah every week, this is the day on which we think about the place that Mt. Sinai has in our life, we try to understand how to apply the Word of God, the Torah, into our lives.
While the other issue: “Bikurim” (First Fruits) remains ignored and mostly unexplained. Holiday pilgrimages no longer exist, and activities regarding the fulfillment of the “Bikurim” commandments are no longer relevant. We no longer live in an agricultural environment and none of us present “Bikurim” (First Fruits).
Therefore, today it is necessary to give to the holiday of Shavuot a Messianic flavor. We all have skills, gifts, and abilities. And there is the obligation for everyone to contribute their share and to give their “Bikurim” to the body of Messiah, or to the local congregation.
The First Fruits are identified in the Torah, and they are:
“…the first of all the produce of the ground…” – Deuteronomy 26:2
…and of them each resident of the Land of Israel will bring to the Temple. Also, the bringer of the First Fruits declares more or less: it was bad for us, we were slaves, but God intervened and saved us, and now it is well with us. And behold, I present the blessing of God, I bring this fruit in gratitude.
Although we are not part of the Land of Israel, and indeed there is no temple, we do have a “little temple” which is our house of prayer, and God did intercede and save us, and in any case, the essence of this holiday is “gratitude toward God” for all the goodness and blessings with which He has blessed us:
“So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you.” – Deuteronomy 26:11
This gratitude toward God is not a matter of courtesy, it is a duty to fulfill. As we learn the holiday commandments, the lessons and morals of the holiday, we learn that we need to feel great joy that we are able to give thanks for the good in our lives.
I would like to argue that the commandment of the Bikurim is not “just” to bring the First Fruits, the main principle of the commandment is to lead us to express gratitude toward God for all that He provides us with, including bringing us, as He promised, to the Land of Israel in which we live and the fruit of the land that we enjoy (being financially successful).
The Lord says:
“…when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it…” – Deuteronomy 26:1
And one answers:
“I declare today to the lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.” – Deuteronomy 26:3
So the commandment of the offering of the Bikurim is based on the bringing of the First Fruits to the Temple. But at its basis it is not just expressing gratitude for agricultural produce, but perhaps it is especially expressing gratitude for the good land that God swore to our forefathers.
This holiday reminds every student of the Bible that our dwelling, of the people of Israel, in the Land of Israel, is due to this promise.
If the bringing of the First Fruits is to thank God for the good that He gives us, for His grace, then we can still do that today. We can give God the First Fruits of our talents, income, time, and effort.
Yeshua, throughout the Scriptures, compares us to fruit trees, and as such, Yeshua requires of us, of our lives, fruit. God blessed us with many talents, the New Testament gives us a number of lists of gifts, talents, abilities, etc., be they gifts of physical help or spiritual help.
Every person has a role, every person has a gift. And so every believer should have a role in the congregation. We must all contribute our part to the congregation, and to society.
How do we perceive the congregation? Do we imagine the congregation to be a place that we come to, sit for a while, sing a little, pray a little, and a for a little while listen to a sermon and then go home?
And in so doing have I fulfilled my obligation of faith? Is God now happy with me, simply because I went to God’s house?
It is not so wise to simply come to the congregation on Saturday or Sunday and to sit and think: That’s it, I did the will of God, I showed up, I sat, a day is coming when I will receive my wages from the King of Kings. We are all God’s workers, and are required to build up the Body of Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven. We each have skills and gifts, and we must use them, and donate them to the congregation! To build up the community!
He also spoke this parable:
“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9 [NKJV]
As part of the commandments of the bringing of the First Fruits, we must be truly happy, with our rights and ability to do good, to help and to serve others. Once a year it is worth remembering the fruit that we have borne and presented to God. To give an account before God: what I did for the Kingdom of Heaven this year.
The Corona period in particular emphasizes our social responsibility, how we are all connected to one another. And we have witnessed tremendous social giving, countless volunteers, who have not thought of themselves but how to help others who are in crisis or are a part of at-risk groups, with great concern for the elderly, and even purchases and donations of computers to young people in difficult financial situations so that they too could study using Zoom. This represents humanity at its best.
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.