[This is the third installment.]

In this portion of the Torah we are given the commandment to bring the first fruits (bikurim) to the Temple. (Deut. 26:1-11) The fruits are to be brought in a wicker basket, and the fruits with the basket are presented to one of the priests of the Temple. "And the priest will take the basket from your hand, and place it before the altar of G‑d, your G‑d." (Deut. 26:4) The word for "basket" in this passage is 'tene'.

The [mystical meaning of the] commandment of the first fruits is the return of the lights of the Nukva [of Zeir Anpin] to chesed, which is embodied by the priest, in order that evil not be able to derive sustenance [from the Divine beneficence elicited by our performance of the commandments]. In order for Divine beneficence to reach this world in any form, it has to be greatly contracted

As we have discussed previously, whenever there is a revelation of Divine beneficence, there is the risk that the forces of evil will benefit from the overflow, i.e., whatever is not directed to proper vessels. One way of minimizing this risk is ensuring that the vessels are capacious enough to hold whatever Divine beneficence reaches them. We accomplish this by building orderly and well-functioning mental, emotional, and physical structures and contexts in our lives through which we can easily channel whatever new insights, emotions, and material wealth and well-being come our way.

The other way we minimize this risk is by taking steps to ensure that whatever would overflow if it was given is instead withheld. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains (Igeret HaKodesh 3, Tanya, p. 104a ff). that in order for Divine beneficence to reach this world in any form, it has to be greatly contracted. This contraction process is likened to piercing small holes in a veil that shields a bright, intense light, allowing only small rays of light to penetrate it and be visible from the outside. Once this light has reached its destination, the holes must then be closed in order to prevent the light from shining elsewhere. If we allegorically consider the sefirot the "garment" of the Divine form or body, the veil hiding their light from the lower worlds may be conceived of as a coat of armor, which has many holes in it (for the light to issue through). These holes are covered by scales to prevent arrows entering it, or, in our analogy, prevent light from issuing where it is not wanted and thus granting power to evil.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains that this preventative power is part of the effect of acts of charity and kindness in this world.

Presumably, it is in this light that we are to understand the effect of giving the first fruits to the Temple. Giving the first fruits is a form of charity, since the priests are the ones who actually eat these fruits, and the commandment educates us to give the first and best fruits of our efforts to holy purposes. This, in effect, indicates that all the fruits of our efforts are going to be directed for holy purposes, since we dedicate even our mundane lives to promulgating Divine consciousness in this world.

All the fruits of our efforts are going to be directed for holy purposes...

By ensuring that our mundane lives are dedicated and oriented to Divine purposes, we close the holes in the Divine veil, preventing G‑d’s beneficence from being sidetracked into evil channels through our misuse of it.

As we have also seen previously, the involvement in the material world is the feminine side of our personalities. It is thus the light of the feminine principle that must be directed upward, to the source of Divine beneficence (G‑d’s chesed). If left to its own devices, the feminine principle within us will focus obsessively on the material world, at first with the object of making the world a home for G‑d, but eventually losing sight of this goal and seeing our involvement in the material world as an end in itself.

The feminine principle is alluded to by the word for "basket."

This is the mystical meaning of [the phrase,] "the priest will take the basket from your hand," for the numerical value of the word for "the basket" [ha-tene] is the same as that of the Name Adni.

Ha-tene: hei-tet-nun-alef = 5 + 9 + 50 + 1 = 65.

Adni: alef-dalet-nun-yud = 1 + 4 + 50 + 5 = 65.

The Divine Name Adni signifies the sefirah of malchut, the feminine principle.

Rabbi Bachya ben Asher adds the following ideas: The first fruits symbolize the first three letters of the Name Havayah, yud-hei-vav, and the basket symbolizes the fourth letter, the final hei, which, as we know, also signifies the sefirah of malchut. Malchut is the recipient of the flow of Divine insight and beneficence of the sefirot signified by the first three letters of the Name Havayah. It is therefore symbolized by the basket that holds the fruits.

The priest represents G‑d in this ceremony, and he takes the fruit and the basket, symbolizing the Divine Name, and waves them in the four directions, indicating that it is G‑d who runs and animates the world. The holes in the wicker basket evoke the image of G‑d observing the world from His unobserved vantage point and directing the affairs of life through His Divine providence.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Ta’amei HaMitzvot and Shaar HaPesukim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.