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Unraveling ביכורים: The Richness of Hebrew's First Fruits

Exploring the Depth and Cultural Significance of ביכורים in Modern-Day Israel

On Shavuot, the day of בִּכּוּרִים (first fruits) (Numbers 28:26), they would bring the first fruits of the wheat harvest to the temple (Exodus 34:22) - the first offering baked from the new wheat. Shavuot is also the time from which it was possible to bring the first fruits of all seven species with which our land was blessed.


Bikuring (בִּכּוּרִים) are the fruits and crops that ripened first. Related is the biblical word בִּכּוּרָה or בַּכּוּרָה - a ripe fig that ripened first. A בִּכּוּרָה before summer is a metaphor for something everyone covets and is immediately snapped up when it appears, according to the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Like a בִּכּוּרָה before summer that a watcher sees, while it's still in his hand he consumes it" (28:4). In the language of the sages, the word בַּכִּיר is used to indicate a fruit that ripened first and also to indicate the early sowing season, with the first rains. Its opposite is אָפִיל - in both meanings. In psychological terminology, the words בַּכִּיר, בַּכִּירוּת are used to indicate early sexual maturity.


The agricultural words we've seen are, of course, related to the word בְּכוֹר (firstborn) - the one born first to his parents. The firstborn daughter is called בְּכִירָה in the Tanach, as in Laban's words to Jacob: "It is not done in our place to give the younger before the firstborn" (Genesis 29:26). And in the language of the sages, there is also בְּכוֹרָה in this sense: "Bitya, daughter of Pharaoh, was a בְּכוֹרָה" (Pesikta deRav Kahana). In modern Hebrew, the biblical female form בְּכִירָה has been used to create the title בָּכִיר, meaning 'high-ranking' in the army, in management, and the like. And so it is written in the list of military terms established in collaboration with the Hebrew Language Academy at the beginning of the state: "בָּכִיר (senior) - highly experienced, high-ranking; the opposite of זוטר (junior)".


The abstract term indicating the status and rights of the firstborn son is "bekhorah". Jacob asked his brother Esau to "sell me your birthright as of this day" (Genesis 25:31) and offered a lentil stew in return. From this comes the expression 'sold for a pot of lentils', indicating the exchange of something valuable for something of little worth. In modern phrases, the word "bekhorah" is used to indicate a preference given to someone or something, such as 'first right' or 'preferred shares' (shares that holders enjoy first profits from). It also denotes something done for the first time, especially in public, such as 'a premiere showing' or 'inaugural speech'.

"Hibkir" means to mature or to bear fruit first, and one who gives birth for the first time is called a "mavkira". In the Tanakh and the literature of the sages, the verb "biker" is also used in this sense, such as in the prophecy of Ezekiel: "every tree for food will not drop its leaves nor will it lose its fruit, every month it will bear" (47:12), and Rashi interprets: "each month it will ripen its fruits".

So there you have it. From biblical tales of birthrights and lentil stews to contemporary uses in modern Hebrew, the term "bekhorah" and its variants have come a long way. Just remember, whatever you choose to 'biker' in life, make sure it's worth more than a pot of lentils. Stay sassy, folks.


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