Every year around Shavuot, children in Israel reenact the firstfruits ceremony that took place during Temple times. Young children dress in white, wear paper crowns adorned with flowers, and participate in a parade with their artfully made fruit baskets and festive music. I love watching my children take part in this nearly forgotten ceremony, keeping its memory alive. It is a taste of what once was, and what will be again. Most importantly, the children become familiar with the concept of celebrating and acknowledging God’s blessings.
Judaism’s Oral Tradition provides a beautiful description of what bringing the firstfruits looked like when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. With great pomp and pageantry, the people traveled to Jerusalem with their firstfruits in baskets on their shoulders, along with an ox adorned with gilded horns and a crown of olive tree branches. Festive music and singing accompanied the joyful procession. Once at the Temple, the firstfruits were given to the priests, and the pilgrims recited a prescribed biblical passage describing the past difficulties that the nation of Israel encountered from the time of the Patriarch Jacob until they settled in the Promised Land. The ceremony concluded with giving thanks to God for the land and its fruit and with celebration.
Today, giving God our firstfruits implies that we give to God’s purposes with the best that we have and acknowledge His gifts with gratitude, praise, and celebration. As Maimonides, the renowned 12th-century rabbi and scholar, wrote, “Everything that is for the sake of God should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table. Whenever one designates something of a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possession.”
When we do that, when we give to God in a way that gives Him the most glory, we are, in essence, giving God our complete and boundless gratitude for what we have been given.