In the third chapter of masechet Bikurim we learn in great detail about how bikurim was brought. The precession and excitement the surrounded the masses of people that brought bikurim together was simply awesome. One detail mentioned is that aside from the officials and important people of the Beit Hamikdash that went to greet the crowd, craftsmen would also stand and ask about their welfare. Why was it important to mention the craftsmen’s involvement?
The Gemara (Kiddushin 33a) explains that craftsmen are not allowed to stand during their work for talmidei chachamim as they pass by. Nevertheless, during the bikurim precession, they would stand. R’ Yossi explain that this detail in our Mishnah illustrates the importance of a mitzvah while it is being performed; even craftsmen that are forbidden from any break stop their work for the bikurim.
We need to understand two points. Firstly why are craftsmen not allowed to stand for talmidei chachamim? Secondly why are bikurim so special?
Since giving respect to talmidei chachamim is so important, the Tosfot question this prohibition that is placed on the craftsmen. They first answer, that the Gemara is referring to a craftsman that is being paid to do work for another; consequently they are not allowed to waste time during their contract. Alternatively the Tosfot answers that they are performing their own work, yet the Gemara means that they are not obligated to break for the passing sage but may do so if they want (see Shluchan Aruch YD 244:5).
The Ritva however explains that even a craftsman performing his own work is not allowed to stand. The Chachamim understood that people would generally opt to stand. The Chachamim were therefore concerned for the negative impacts on productivity (bitul melacha) and therefore outright forbade it. The Ran agrees but provides a different reason. Since standing is optional for a craftsman performing his own work, if one craftsman decides to stand, then it would put the other craftsmen in bad light making them appear as they a degrading the owner of the chachamim.
Returning to bikurim, we find that the craftsmen nonetheless stand. We have mentioned that R’ Yossi explains that this law shows how important a mitzvah is during its performance. The Bartenura learns from this that one must stand when a coffin is being carried for burial or when a baby is being brought for a brit millah.
The Rambam however explains that the difference by bikurim is that it involves giving respect to the masses (kavod tzibbur) which is different to honouring an individual chacham.1
^^The Gemara however continues suggesting that perhaps the reason why the craftsmen must stand is not because of the importance of showing respect to mitzvah when it is being performed, but due to the negative ramifications if they do not. Rashi explains that there was a concern that those that came would feel that what they were doing was considered lightly or even nonsense in the eyes of the locals and would not come the next year.
The Ben Yehoya questions this reason. Were the people bringing bikurim doing so for honour? Were they so sensitive that if the craftsmen did stand, who do not even stand for talmidei chachamim, they would be offended? He answers that this certainly is not the case. Instead there was a real concern that those coming would be embarrassed. After all, they travelled the country to bring a couple of pomegranates! Consequently all efforts were made to create a fuss and show respect to this mitzvah so that those that were coming would indeed appreciate the greatness of this “small” mitzvah.2
1 See the Birkei Yosef (YD 244:5) who offers an explanation as to where the Rambam derived this explanation, seeing that it appears to contradict the Gemara.
2 Note, much of the content of this article was gleaned from the Metiva, Yalkut Bi’urim, Kidushin 33a.
As a final note perhaps we can use this to answer the Mishnah Rishona’s question (3:2). He asks why there was no ceremony when people brought maaser sheni or were ole leregel. He answers that perhaps they would combine all three and bring maaser sheni and bikurim to Yerushalaim at the same time. Perhaps we could provide the answer of the Ben Yehoyada that because of the potentially perceived triviality of bikurim in particular, there was need to generate a great fuss so that people recognise that despite its appearance, bikurim was a great mitzvah.
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