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In this week's parsha we read about the mitzvah of Bikkurim. The Torah tells us to bring our first fruits of the season to the Beit Hamikdash, and offer it to the Kohanim. We are also told that the people would bring the fruits in baskets. The Sifri explains that there was a practice for the wealthy to bring their fruits in baskets overlaid with gold or silver, while the poor would use woven baskets. This would ostensibly show their love for the mitzvah.

However one could ask a question on this practice: We often find that the Rabbis would regulate standards in regards to mitzvah practices that could differentiate between the poor and wealthy. For example, the Gemara in Moed Katan (27a-b) tells us that the original custom was for the wealthy to bury their dead in fancy and expensive caskets, however this caused the poor to be embarrassed, thus the Chazal enacted that everyone be buried in simple caskets. Seemingly, the minhag for the wealthy to use gold and silver laden baskets would also embarrass the poor. If so, why didn't the Chazal regulate this practice as well?

  • who kept the baskets? – ray Sep 12 '14 at 11:17
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    the talmud says the poor would leave their baskets at the temple and the rich would bring theirs back home – Shoel U'Meishiv Sep 12 '14 at 11:24
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  • @Nafkamina so it seems God preferred the gift of the poor. – ray Sep 12 '14 at 15:11
  • @Nafkamina Please make sure that my edits are in accordance with your intentions. – Shokhet Sep 12 '14 at 17:16
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I would venture to say that it's date related.

The shrouds enactment was enshrined by Rabban Gamliel "עד שבא רבן גמליאל ונהג קלות ראש בעצמו ויצא בכלי פשתן ונהגו העם אחריו לצאת בכלי פשתן". I'm not sure which Rabban Gamliel, but it seems that the first Rabban Gamliel lived close to the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

By then it was too late to institute Bikkurim-related decrees. IIRC by then there was little agriculture going on and most people were living in Jerusalem.

If that is true, then we could assume that until then people were buried on the family farm. It was only once they congregated into cities that public burials became a fashion show and an issue.

While searching for a proof - which I have not found - I discovered that the Ikkar Tosfos YomTov asks this very question and answers that the expensive vessels were an honor for the Temple, and the honor of the Temple takes precedence over people's potential embarrassment.

עיקר תוי"ט {יב} ערבה קלופה. נצרים הם ענפים או שבטים. כמו ונצר משרשיו יפרה (ישעיה י''א). ופירוש קליפה שמסירין קליפתה תרגום מחשוף הלבן קליף. הר''מ: {יג} וק''ל דאי הכי עניים מתביישים ולמה לא תקנו כדי שלא יתביישו העניים שאף העשירים יביאו בנצרים כמו שמצינו בכמה מקומות. וי''ל משום כבוד בית אלהינו ומשרתיו לא חשו על שיתביישו העניים. תוי''ט:‏

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See the Malbim on the sifri

Malbim, in his commentary here in Parashat Ki-Savo (26:4), explains that since the kohanim had to eat the bikkurim in a state of ritual purity, the farmers would need to bring brand new utensils to bring their first fruits, to ensure that the fruit remain ritually pure. The poor farmers would weave their own baskets, whereas the wealthier ones purchased utensils for this purpose. Malbim says that because it was made by their own hands, they were honored that their handiwork was used for the mitzvah.

My own addition: And as @ray pointed out, the fact that the wicker baskets were left by the kohanim, while the rich would bring theirs back, would seem to indicate the "chavivus" of the Hashem to the handiwork of the poor.

  • Why not just dip old ones in a Mikva? – Double AA Sep 14 '14 at 14:30
  • I dont know, this is what the Malbim says – Shoel U'Meishiv Sep 14 '14 at 14:35
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My take -- there's less shame in seeing that this year, so-and-so can afford nice baskets and so-and-so can't, because people's fortunes can change. Maybe next year will be different.

But you only get one chance to be buried. For something that final, we make it all equal.

Another possible distinction -- bringing a cheap basket means "I can't afford a pricey one." Whereas Raban Gamliel's enactment was concerned with people who couldn't dress their loved ones in fancy clothes (and would therefore just dump the body). "I can't afford a nice basket", eh whatever. "I couldn't afford anything nice to bury my mother", that was seen as a real shame.

(And of course you can put the two ideas together. "I can't afford something pricey for myself this year", vs. "I can't afford final honors for my parent/spouse.")

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Maybe this will help. As far as use of caskets Reb Moshe Zatza"l said that it would be a good idea to abolish the use of caskets. In the time of the Gemora they used caskets but later the custom changed and they were no longer needed. Now we used them again. Reb Moshe concluded that it is clear that the custom of caskets can change. This was said after stating that the Mishmeres Shalom (Aleph 75) describes the preferable method of burial as directly in the ground rather than in a casket. The Aruch Hashulchan (362-3) also recommends burial in the ground without the use of a casket. The Chochmas Adam (158-1) prohibits the use of caskets. Personal I will ad that it could be that the use of caskets came into use because of Chukas Hagoyim, but this is not written anywhere that I know of. Only by following the history of the Halacha it would make sense since the Halacha can and should change depending where we are. For example in Eretz Yisroel we bury directly in the ground ie no casket. The only ones buried there in a casket are soldiers so that no one knows how they died. Friends who work for the IDF in the (what is called today) Zaka units tell me tanks that are hit aren't pretty. Enough or too much said. One last thought on the use of gold or silver, if people were to know that one has embellished their caskets with such.. how long till some "gold digger digs up this "poor" soul, Lo Alainu.

  • I don't see how any of this (except your final suggestion, "f people were to know that one has embellished...") answers the question. – msh210 Sep 14 '14 at 4:49
  • Agree with @msh210 – Shoel U'Meishiv Sep 14 '14 at 8:19
  • I think this may have been meant as an answer to a different recent question ( @msh210 ) – Shokhet Sep 14 '14 at 13:09
  • @Shokhet but the question there was why we don't allow open caskets, not the permissibility of caskets, which the OP seems to be addressing. – Shoel U'Meishiv Sep 14 '14 at 14:22
  • @Nafkamina If you can't have a casket at all, isn't it pretty simple that you can't have a covered casket? – Shokhet Sep 14 '14 at 14:58

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