Bikurim refers to the mitzvah of bringing one’s first fruit to the Beit HaMikdash and giving them to a Kohen. We learnt that this mitzvah only applies to the shivat ha’minim (seven species). When the person arrives he also makes a declaration, whose content is verses from the Torah – “Arami oved avi…”. The masechet opens by recording cases where even though one might possess first fruits, the owner is not able to recite the parasha or not able to bring bikurim at all. One case brought (1:6) is where either the spring that irrigated the field dried up or the fruit tree itself was cut down prior to separating bikurim. The Mishnah explains that while bikurim are still brought, one may not recite the parasha of bikurim. R’ Yehuda however understand that one can nevertheless still recite the parasha. We shall try to understand the debate.
The Gemara (Berachot 40a) raises this Mishnah in the context of the following question: from where does the fruit of a tree primarily grows – the land or the tree. This question is important as it impacts on whether reciting the beracha of bore pri ha’adamah is acceptable for fruit. The Gemara aligns the opinion of R’ Yehuda in our Mishnah with the opinion that the fruit primarily grows from the ground; meaning that the beracha of bore pri ha’adamah is valid.
To explain the connection to our Mishnah, Rashi explains that since according to the Chachamim’s opinion the principle growth of the fruit is from the tree, once the tree is cut down it is as if the person has no “adama” (land). He therefore cannot recite the parasha in which he would thank Hashem for giving him fruit producing adama. According to R’ Yehuda however, since the growth stems primarily from the land, he still maintains fruit producing adama.
The Mishnah Rishona questions this explanation of the Chachamim’s position. He reasons that if is because that after the supporting spring stops or the tree is cut down it is considered as if there is no land, then the owner should not be able to bring bikurim at all. We learnt in the first Mishnah that a basic requirement is that the fruit grows entirely from one’s land.
The Mishnah Rishona answers that since the fruit had grown prior to these events, the obligation of bringing bikurim was already engaged. Since however, it is now considered as if he has no land, he cannot recite the parasha as he would be contradicting the substance of the declaration.
The Mishnah Rishona however provides another explanation. There is another statement in the declaration that would disqualify him from reading the parasha – “ve’samachta be’chol ha’tov”. Simcha – happiness – is part of the declaration and therefore a prerequisite. Since in this case the owner’s field has taken a significant hit, the element of simcha will be lacking. R’ Yehuda however would argue, much like the opinion of R’ Yehuda ben Beteira and the end of this Mishnah, that the owner’s simcha is not essential.
The Mishnah Rishona however directs our attention to the Tosfot that provides a different explanation. They explain that the reason why the owner cannot recite the parasha is because rather the praising Hashem, in this case it would appears as though the owner is complaining that Hashem gave him land that could not produce fruit. The Mishnah Rishona however finds this difficult given that the owner simply reads a set text. Others question the necessity of the Tosfot’s explanation at all given the Gemara’s explanation of the Chachamim’s position that he has no land.
The Maharsha answers that the Tosfot found the simple reading of the Gemara difficult. Granted that it is considered as if the owner does not have land now, he is nevertheless presenting fruit that were produced in the property that he still possesses. Why then is he prevented from reciting the parasha? For this reason the Tosfot adds that uttering the words, “the land that you have given me” in the current context would be interpreted in a negative way. The parasha should therefore not be recited.
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