When an Israelite farmer brought the first fruits of his harvest to the Holy Temple, he presented them to the priest in a basket. Wealthy people brought their fruit in beautiful golden baskets and these baskets were returned to them. Poor people brought their fruit in simple wicker baskets, which the priest did not return.
Why did the rich, who could easily afford a new basket, get theirs back while the poor did not? Our sages teach that this was to protect the poor from embarrassment. The wealthy gave the very best and most beautiful fruits, which were pleasing to the eye even without the golden basket. Those of limited means could only afford to give humble, even measly-looking fruit. If the priest were to publicly remove the inferior fruit from the basket, the poor man might be embarrassed, so the priest kept both fruit and basket.
The Talmud says, “One who embarrasses another in public, it is as if that person shed blood.” We must always take great care to avoid bringing shame to our fellow. It is also worth noting that in keeping the wicker baskets and returning the gold baskets, the priests were teaching an important lesson. The golden basket required only a small portion of a wealthy person’s resources while the wicker basket represented a much bigger sacrifice. In keeping the poor man’s humble basket, the priest showed that it was more precious to God than the fancy gold basket of the rich man.
Image: Bringing Bikkurim to Jerusalem, 1730