The Talmud (Pesahim 36b) discusses the schedule for reciting the confessional upon bringing first fruits to the Temple. When first fruits are brought to the Temple from Shavu’ot until Sukkot, the farmer recites the confessional. This period of the year is the normal time when fruits ripen and, therefore, fitting for the ceremony to be performed. Indeed, this is the reason why the festival of Shavu’ot is called Hag Ha-Bikkurim. When first fruits are brought to the Temple between the festival of Sukkot and Hanukkah, the farmer may not recite the confessional since this is not the period when fruits ripen and the confessional includes reciting the phrase “I have brought the first fruits of the earth” (Deuteronomy 26: ). However, after Hanukkah the farmer not only omits the recital of the confessional, the farmer is barred from bringing first fruits since the Torah (and the confessional) mentions the produce “from your fields” and no produce grows in the fields between Hanukkah and Passover.
In sum, the Talmud divides the year into three time periods. The first time period is the optimum time for the performance of bringing first fruits. The second time period is a satisfactory – but not ideal – time for bringing first fruits. And the third time period is an unacceptable time for bringing first fruit. Philosophically speaking, there are two great truths to be derived from this schedule.
First, from this schedule Jews can extrapolate that one should aim for perfect but settle for good. Farmers should intend to bring their produce between Shavu’ot and Sukkot and recite the specified formula. But should that prove too difficult, it is still possible to fulfill the obligation, albeit in a revised way. Second, opportunities do not last forever. Some actions must take place within a specified time. When that time expires, the opportunity is lost. The wise person acts before that time is over.
The rabbis teach that the penitential period is the last opportunity to repent. Ideally, sinners should repent immediately after realizing their wrongdoing. But should that time pass, sinners can still find atonement through the penitential period. This opportunity to achieve at-one-ment with God and with one’s neighbors does not last forever. Let us all act before it is too late.