Rosh Hashanah: Joy, Happiness and a Basket of Fruit

So many are searching, desperately searching: For happiness. Today, in a world in which we are lacking so little, it seems that happiness is more elusive than ever.

Bikkurim: A Historic Perspective

So from where, truly, can we draw deep, real happiness in life?

The parsha of Bikkurim holds the key.

The Torah tells us to take the first fruits from our orchard and bring them up to Jerusalem, to the Beit HaMikdosh. There, we stand with a basket of fruit, and read a speech that begins with the life of Yacov—“My forefather served an Aramean”—and then moves to slavery and suffering in Egypt, to the Exodus, to finally arriving in the land of Israel, to “And now, I am bringing the first fruits of the land which Hashem gave me.”

Bikkurim: Looking Deeper

With Bikkurim, the Torah is telling us to look carefully and deeply at the fruit that has grown in our garden, and to see within it another step in a long chain reaching all the way back to Yacov. On the one hand, one can look at a piece of fruit and see exactly what it is, a nice piece of fruit worth no more than a few shekels. But there is an entirely different way of looking at that same piece of fruit; there is the looking at it through the lens of history, and in the context of the reality that we were, and are once again, living in Eretz Yisroel. From that perspective, a mere piece of fruit becomes an expression of the eternity of the Jewish people and of the undeniable fact that despite every enemy and obstacle that galut contains, nothing can vanquish the Jewish people.

With Bikkurim, it’s as if the Torah is saying—

“You need to know, when your great-grandfather was being trampled under the storm trooper’s boots, he closed his eyes and imagined that one day his great grandchild would be walking through an orchard in Israel where he would pick a piece of freshly ripened fruit. This kind of minds-eye vision was with Jews wherever we were throughout the long, dark centuries of galut. It enabled us to endure, and to build another link in the chain of Am Yisroel, no matter what. And therefore … You, you who can become ensnared in the constricted thinking of everyday life, you need to take your fruits up to the holy city, and to the Mikdosh—the place where the vibrant energy of eternity resonates and penetrates our souls—and there to speak, and clearly articulate, a broad overview of Jewish history that connects our past to this very moment: to you, here, now, in this place.”

That experience is transformative. It lifts us to another place; a place of deep appreciation, a place of profound connection to the highest, most meaningful values; a place that naturally fills us with simcha, with joy and happiness. Indeed, each of us is a lofty being created in God’s image—a tzelem Elokim—and for a tzelem Elokim to experience true happiness, he needs to be deeply connected to the soaring, eternal dimension that is the true essence of his life.

A Dream Come True

This parsha serves as a cornerstone for our entire relationship to everything in our lives; both the physical aspects of life, and certainly the spiritual. Our homes, possessions, and whatever we have in the land of Israel aren’t just  personal acquisitions or accomplishments, they are the realization of countless dreams over two millennia. When we are able to see our lives in the grand context of a timeless dream unfolding, our lives take on another tenor and are imbued with a deeper, richer meaning, a meaning that can’t help but express itself in true happiness.

And so, the Bikkurim text concludes with—

“And you will rejoice in all the good that Hashem your God has given you.”

We have all experienced grumbling our way thru the frustrating, oppressive search for a parking space. We’ve waited too long for a bus, or for a train whose service has been halted yet again. In those moments, the Torah is asking us to stop, lift our sights, and recall—

“Thus says the God of hosts, ‘once again elderly men and women will sit in the streets of Jerusalem … and the broad places of the city will be filled with young boys and girls playing in her streets.”

If we are able to live with that perspective, the bothersome noises of children in the streets will be transformed to tears of happiness and joy in being able to live in the midst of our unfolding redemption.

Just imagine if someone from hundreds of years ago were able to travel forward in time and see our life today. He simply wouldn’t be able to stop the flow of joyous tears when seeing even the smallest things that we take for granted, like a piece of fruit in the shuk, or bakery shelves brimming with challah and pastries for Shabbat and chagim. Perhaps we need to imagine that we are walking through the streets with someone that lived through the trials of galut; to see the simple sights of daily life through their eyes, and to feel what they would feel. For them, the stress of dealing with a contractor would be overshadowed by—

“For Hashem, the God of Israel has said, ‘Once more will you buy homes and fields and vineyards in this land.”

And, when we focus on how things could be better, we would do it with a simultaneous appreciation for how far we have come.

The warm, healing rays of geula are shining on us every day. Every day …

The Happiness Conundrum

From Bikkurim we learn that happiness is the fruit of how we look at things, not of how many things we have. Our times are brimming with unprecedented abundance, and at the same time with rampant depression. The cause isn’t what we are lacking, but rather that we are unable to see the deeper, contextual meaning of our lives. Beneath the surface, today, our souls are actually more ready, more spiritually mature, than ever. We are on the verge of a higher reality, and our souls sense it. Ironically, it’s this very profound and real soul level sensitivity that makes us so susceptible to disappointment and depression when we are unable to connect to the deeper dimensions of reality. An unmarried child doesn’t suffer from not having found his soul mate, but a mature adult that is ready for marriage does, specifically because he is so ready for the next phase in life. And so …

Rosh Hashanah

Raishit. The first fruits of the land connect us to the beginning of the life long journey of Am Yisroel. So too Rosh Hashanah—raishit hashana—is able to lift our sights, and our personal, individual lives, and imbue them with ultimate meaning. To appreciate that we are part of malchut Hashem—God’s world; that we are each a vital limb in the great, collective body of Am Yisroel, and that Am Yisroel itself is nothing less than the very revelation of God’s presence and sovereignty in this world.

This is the opportunity of Rosh Hahsanah: To shake free of our narrow, constricted consciousness—mochin d’katnut—and to ascend to an expanded consciousness— mochin d’gadut—where our personal life, and the life of the nation of Israel, are folded into a higher, shared reality.

On Rosh Hashanah we do more than declare Hashem’s sovereignty, we look at ourselves, and life, through new eyes. We see that our lives, homes, and families are vital parts of the kingdom, and even that we reside in the courtyard of the palace itself. Without a doubt, this perspective will inspire us to deal responsibly, and happily, with the portion of the kingdom that has been entrusted to our hands.

May we merit this all, and more.

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