The upcoming Yom Tov of Shavuot is associated in our Tefila with the giving of Torah. Yet, Chazal see Shavuot as the opening of the Bikurim season. Though the Mitzvah of Bikurim does not apply to us today, we will learn certain aspects of the Mitzvah in hope and prayer that in the near future we may have the opportunity to fulfill this beautiful mitzvah. In this article we will try to summarize when Bikurim are separated and brought to the Mikdash.
In speaking of times when Bikurim should be brought to the Mikdash we actually speak of two different questions. One question pertains to the historic conditions that make Bikurim relevant. The other is during the times in history that Bikurim were and will be offered, when during the year would this mitzvah apply.
On a historic level the first condition was entering the land of Israel and the division of the land between the tribes. This is learned from the verse in Devarim (26/1) pertaining to Bikurim “Vehaya ki tavo el ha’aretz…virishta veyashavta bah”, and when you shall come to the land …and you will inherit it and settle on it. Inheriting of the land was accomplished by its’ division, therefore, we can learn from the pasuk, that both entering the land and dividing it are required. (See Kidushin 27b)
The second condition is the existence of a Mikdash. We find in the Mishna Bikurim (chapter 2 Mishna 3), that Bikurim differ from Trumot and Maasrot since they can be separated even when there is no Mikdash, while Bikurim apply only in the time of the Mikdash. The Rambam in Hikchot Bikurim (ch.2 halacha 1) explains that this halacha is derived from the pasuk (Shemot 23/19) “Reshit bikurei admatcha tavi beit Hashem Elokecha”, the first (or finest) of your fruit you shall bring to the home of God your lord. (See also Tosefta Sheklim ch.3 halacha 15) In his commentary to the Misnah, the Rambam refers to a different pasuk “Velakach haCohen…vehinicho lifnei mizbach hashem Elokecha”, and the Cohen shall take (the fruit)…and he will place it before the alter (Devarim 26/4). (See Sifrei on this pasuk)
The difference in the sources may be associated with a discussion found in the Ramban’s commentary on Torah (Devarim 26/2). The Ramban debates whether Bikurim were brought only at Shilo and Yerushalayim, where the Mikdash was in a stone structure, or were they brought at Nov and Givon where the mikdash was housed in a tent. If we learn from the pasuk “Beit Hashem” then we may conclude a Bayit namely stone structure is needed. While if we learn the need for Mikdash from “lifnei Mizbach Hashem” then Bikurim may be brought anywhere there is a proper Mizbeach.
Another interesting question is whether during the time of the second Mikdash the mitzvah of Bikurim was biblically required (mideorita) or only a rabbinic requirement. Though the second Mikdash fulfilled all the above criteria there are opinions that we also need “biat kulchem” the presence of all or most of the Jewish people in the land. Since during the time of the second mikdash only a minority of the people lived in Israel, if we required “biat Kulchem” then Bikurim at that time would be only of rabbinic origin.
According to what we have said, today there is no requirement to give Bikurim and therefore if one were to separate fruit for Bikurim his action would be meaningless.
At a time when Bikurim should be brought, the Mishna teaches that they are brought as of Shavuot (Bikurim 1/3). Before that time Bikurim are not accepted as is learned from the pasuk, “Vechag Hakatzir bikurei ma-ashecha” and the holiday of the harvest when the first of your produce is brought. Beginning from Shavuot through Sucot one may bring his Bikurim to the Mikdash and read the “Mikra Bikurim”, the reading of the pesukim (Devarin 26/5-10) explaining the gift of Bikurim. (See Bikurim 1/6)
After Sucot one may continue bringing Bikurim until Chanukah but does not read the pesukim. This is learned from the commandment “Vesamachta bechol hatov” and you shall rejoice with all the good given to you. During the period from Shavuot to Sucot one rejoices with his harvest and can fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim in full, after that time he lacks the sense or rejoicing and may not read. Even if one separated fruit to bring as Bikurim before Sucot but brought it to the Mikdash only after Sucot he may not read the pesukim.
After Chanukah Bikurim should no longer be brought to the Mikdash. This is learned from the Sifrei on the pasuk “asher tavi meartzecha”, that which you bring from your land. The sifrei interprets this pasuk as saying: while fruit is found on your land you must bring Bikurim, after that time you are exempt from the mitzvah. Fruit that ripened after Chanukah but before the fifteenth of Shevat, according to the Rambam, should be put aside and brought after the next Shavuot. The Raavad disagrees and states that such fruit is viewed as inferior fruit that is exempt from Bikurim altogether.Let us hope and pray that the situation today in which we are exempt from Bikurim ends and that soon we may bring Bikurim to the Mikdash and read the relevant pesukim.