Poverty Stalks the Poor

The Talmud cites an example of this. The poor brought their bikurim (offering of first-ripened fruits) to the Temple in woven baskets, and the wealthy brought them in gold and silver vessels. The woven baskets were retained in the Temple, while the gold and silver vessels were returned to their owners (Bava Kama 92a).

“But what was the reason for this?” asked the Chassidic master, Rebbe David of Talna.

The Rebbe explained, “I once notified a village that I was coming for Shabbat. When the word reached town, many people were jubilant, but not all. Chaim, the tailor, came home glowing with joy. “The Rebbe is coming for Shabbat!” he said. But then he turned gloomy. “What’s wrong?” his wife said. “The Rebbe collects money for tzedaka, and I have nothing to give him,” Chaim said. His wife said, “Don’t you let that bother you. I will do some extra baking and sell it, and we’ll put together a ruble for tzedaka.”

That same day, Yona, the town’s wealthiest citizen came home from shul, glum. “What happened?” His wife asked. “Oh,” Yona said, “the Rebbe is coming to town.” “So why are you so glum?” the wise asked. “You should be happy.” “Well,” Yona said, “the Rebbe collects money to help marry off poor kallas, and he will put the touch on me. There will be another fifty rubles down the drain.”

Rebbe David said, “To me, Chaim’s single ruble is dearer than Yona’s fifty rubles.”

Rebbe David continued. “Something similar happened with bikurim. This person had a few fruit trees, and one day he was elated, saying to his wife, “I just noticed some fruits ripening. I’ll be able to take the to Jerusalem to the Temple.” But then he turned sad. “What happened that you are sad?” his wife asked. “I need some kind of container for the bikurim, but we don’t have anything decent.” The wife said, “That’s no problem. Our daughter and I will weave a basket for you that will be beautiful.” And so they did. The woman and her daughter deftly wove a reed basket, thinking how fortunate they were to be able to contribute to the mitzvah of bikurim.

There was a wealthy man who owned several orchards. One day the farm help came in, saying “Some of the fruits are turning ripe.” “So what?” the wealthy man asked. “Well, don’t you have to take some fruit to the Temple?” “Oh,” for heaven’s sake!” the wealthy man said. “I can’t be running to Jerusalem all the time. I have things here to take care of. But, I guess it can’t be avoided.” After a few moments he said, “You know something? Last year, there was a man who brought his bikurim in a silver vessel. I’m going to bring my bikurim in a gold vessel. Let him plotz with envy!”

Rebbe David said, “The reed baskets that were woven with love for Hashem were kept in the Temple. The gold and silver vessels that were brought to show off one’s wealth and to arouse the envy of others were returned to their owners. Hashem has no use for these.”

That is why the Talmud says that the woven baskets were kept, while the silver and gold ones were returned.