As we have discussed the past few weeks, we see in Sefer Devarim how Moshe prepares Bnei Yisrael to enter Eretz Yisrael; Parshas Ki Savo is no different. The parshah begins with the mitzvah of Bikkurim, The First Fruits. After the land has been conquered and all the tribes have settled in their territories, there is a commandment to bring the first branch that blossoms of any tree belonging to the seven special fruits of Eretz Yisrael (see Devarim 8:8) to the Beis Hamikdash. This mitzvah is performed once a year between Shavuos and Succos (with the potential to extend until Chanuka).
The pesukim go on to explain how you would come to the Beis Hamikdash with your fruits and present your fruits to the attending Kohen. You would then proceed to give a speech acknowledging everything that Hashem has done for the Nation from taking us out of Mitzrayim to bringing us to Eretz Yisrael. The speech ends with a declaration that you are bringing these fruits to the Beis Hamikdash in order to show recognition that just as everything until we entered Eretz Yisrael was because of Hashem’s kindness, so are these fruits (and not a result of our own efforts).
“ וּבָאתָ אֶל הַכֹּהֵן אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם...” “And you will come to the Kohen who will be in those days…” (Devarim 26:3). This pasuk describing the donator’s arrival to the Beis Hamikdash begins with a strange statement. What other Kohen will be there if not the one who is there at that time? Do you expect someone from the past or the future to be there? We see a similar wording in Parshas Shoftim by the commandment to set up a court system (See 17:9) that you should go see the judges “that will be there in those days”. Rashi explains here the same way he does in Parshas Shoftim; even if the current Kohen is not as great as those in previous generations, you must still fulfill the mitzvah and bring him the Bikkurim.
The Ramban asks that while this explanation fits very well in Parshas Shoftim, it does not go as smooth here by Bikkurim. By court cases, if a person feels the judge is unworthy of his position, he might be tempted to not go to Beis Din at all and take care of the case by himself; therefore, the pasuk must warn him to use the Beis Din. However, by Bikkurim, what other option do you have? Whether or not you feel the Kohen is up to par, your only option to fulfill the mitzvah of Bikkurim is to bring it to the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, this cannot be the pshat in the pasuk. Rather, says the Ramban, the pasuk is telling us that you must give the Bikkurim to a Kohen who is on duty at the Beis Hamikdash when you arrive and not to a Kohen who isn’t. For example, if you have a good friend who is a Kohen and you would prefer to give him the Bikkurim instead.
The Kli Yakar tries to answer the Ramban’s question on Rashi with a gemarah in Kesubos (105b) which says that if you bring a present to a Talmid Chacham, it is considered as if you brought Bikkurim. Because of this connection, you might assume that you could only give the real Bikkurim to a Kohen who is also a Talmid Chacham. And if there is no Talmid Chacham in that mishmar, shift, then you must wait until there is a Talmid Chacham present to bring your Bikkurim. Says the Kli Yakar, this is what Rashi was trying to prevent with his explanation; you must respect the Kohen of those days and bring him the Bikkurim regardless of whether or not he is a Talmid Chacham.
The Seforno gives a different explanation. The end of the pasuk states, “וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו הִגַּדְתִּי הַיּוֹם לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי בָאתִי אֶל הָאָרֶץ” “…and say to him, ‘I declare this day to Hashem, your God, that I have come to this land…” (Devarim 26:3). The phrase “Hashem, your God” is only directed at someone who is known as a very wise or highly honorable individual such as a Navi or the king. Even if the present Kohen does not fill these lofty qualifications, because of the great importance of the gift of the Bikkurim, which is the acknowledgment of Hashem as the cause and producer of all sustenance, it is proper that you address the receiver of this gift, the Kohen, with this lofty phrase.
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