For many Orthodox Jews, it is obligatory to commit there very first waking moments in the morning to the following prayer;
I gratefully thank You, O living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me, with compassion. Abundant is your faithfulness.
There is a tendency, and sometimes it is very strong within our movement, to recoil at the slightest suspicion something may be a Jewish tradition or custom from a rabbinical school of thought and not the Bible. This of course is not always a bad thing – not all traditions are good and too many traditions and customs lead to that burdensome yoke Yeshua spoke so vehemently against.
Yet, religious tradition and custom not only connect one to a historical purpose that stretches through generations and upwards to God, but also connect our daily struggles and lives to our Father in heaven. Our faith, no matter what level we believe we are at, needs to be attentive to the reality of daily life and, at the same time, to the sacred reality of God and his intervention in our history. It is by no means an easy task, becoming too immersed in our daily toing and froing’s diverts our gaze from the truly glorious splendour and mystery of God that sustains our faith, while entirely fixating our thoughts towards the heavens does little to address the struggles of our own lives and those of our neighbours, nor does it draw us towards those practical tasks required to bring God’s kingdom to Earth.
This tension, between the profane and the sacred, permeates the Bible and First-fruits. First-fruits points towards the grandeur and splendour of our divine Messiah’s sacrifice – his sacrifice as the first-fruits offering to God. At the same time though, as we ourselves are called to be the first-fruits of God, first-fruits challenges us to make this sacrifice daily and commit each day and each moment to make ourselves acceptable to God and to draw near to Him.
This daily struggle is one of death and rebirth. Before Yeshua could rise, he was crucified, and likewise, as John 12:24 stated, “…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds”. Each day therefore we commit to do our absolute best to serve God is a commitment made by us to sacrifice our desires and to offer our first-fruits to Him.
There is of course no obligation stated in the Torah to pray those words in the morning as many Orthodox Jews do – any prayer to God at any time is a good thing. Nor should anyone ever feel compelled to appropriate a particular culture to draw closer to God. Yet, given the spiritual meaning behind first-fruits, such an act can no doubt only help a believer enter into the right frame of mind for the day, while at the same time, offering his first-fruits each and every day, as our Messiah did and likewise commanded us to do as well.
This is why many traditions are good and should not be feared. They are a means through which we make the profane sacred. These customs and traditions, no matter how big or small, connect our lives to God and our shared Israelite-Hebraic history. The need to make this connection is one of the most central themes running through the Bible, and one that first-fruits calls us to make every morning.