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Parashat Ki Tavo

Dedicated in Honor of my wife Alice by Isaac Sitton

Parashat Ki Tavo

This week’s Parsha contains the Mitzvah of Bikkurim – the Mitzvah of bringing the first produce from one’s crops to Yerushalayim. The Mishnah tells us that as Jews from the towns and farms made their journey to Yerushalaim carrying the Bikkurim, delegations of elders from the cities on the way would come out to greet them with praises to Hashem. When they would reach the gates of Yerushalaim additional verses and praises were recited. It was a most elaborate ceremony. During the course of the year, other things were brought to Yerushaliyam like Ma’aser Sheni. Rabbi Chaiim Shmuelevitz notes that the concept of bringing the first fruits to the Kohen is meant to demonstrate Hakarat Hatov (gratitude) for all that Hashem has given us weather it be material or our intellectual achievements, we must know that they are all gifts from Hashem and the greater our awareness of these gifts, the more we will appreciate them.

Bikkurim does not usually make one’s list of “The five most important Mitzvot in the Torah.” And yet, the Midrash in Bereshit lists Bikkurim as the cause for the creation of the whole world! The Alschich explains that Bikkurim represents two fundamental principles that are essential to what Judaism is all about. A person that plants his crops knows that farming is one of the most difficult professions in the world. It is hard, backbreaking work. One plants in the spring and he does not know what is going to happen to his crop. There can be droughts, floods, and pests. Everything can go wrong and so often it does. Here we have a person who was successful and who has a bountiful crop in front of him. It is very easy for such a person to think, “It was my strength and the power of MY hand that made me this great wealth” [Devarim 18:17]. I’m smart and I toiled and now I see the fruits of MY labor.

Bikkurim comes to counter-act such thoughts. Bikkurim comes to teach us that its G-d’s land, its G-d’s sustanance, and its G-d’s Hand who has given us the power to gain weatlh. A person must appreciate this and recognize the favor. Bikkurim is about appreciating Who it really belongs to and about appreciating Who really gives us our sustanance. These concepts are foundations and fundamentals of the Torah. That is why this mitzvah of Bikkurim is so special.

A person must realize that it is not his brains, talents, or cleverness that help him acquire weatlh. Rather it is his “Siyata D’shmaya” (help from Heaven). It is also his “Mazal” (fortune) that G-d decides to be kind to him.

“Getting The Message” of the Blessings and the Curses

A series of Blessings are mentioned in the preface to the Tochacha. The Torah says, “And these Blessings will come upon you and they will reach you (v’hisigucha)” [Devarim 28:2]. Virtually all of the commentaries are bothered by the expression “v’hisigucha”. Would it not have been sufficient to say, “All these Blessings will come upon you?”

What does “v’hisigucha” (they will reach you) add to this verse? Rabbi Frand presents an answer from the ‘Beit Av’, Rav Schlessinger. The pasuk in Parshat Bechukotai tells us, “And you will eat your bread and be satisfied” [Vayikra 26:5] Rashi there cites a Torat Kohanim that explains the beracha “One will eat a little bit and it will be blessed in his stomach.” That means the blessing is that one will be psychologically satisfied even though he has physically consumed a small amount.

This is the ultimate blessing — to be satisfied and to realize that one has been blessed is the Blessing of all Blessings. Sometimes G-d can shower us with all types of good blessings and riches — health, family, and wealth — but if a person does not realize it, if he is never happy, if there always needs to be more, if there is a constant chase, then what good is the blessing? It becomes meaningless!

We must first know that everything that Hashem does for us is Good! Rabbi Benoliel always taught us that there’s a separate beracha to be able to see the good in all that Hashem does for us no matter how hard it is at the present. There’s a story about a man who’s partners bought him out of a business deal against his will and gave him back his $250k investment which made him quite upset. Not long after that, he was approached by another friend of his who offered him to go into a different deal with the same $250k that he just received back. The new deal overtime, grew to a100 times greater than the first deal that he was in.

A person can be impoverished. He can eat just a little bit and if he is satisfied with it, then he has everything. On the other hand, a person can have fortunes and success, but if he doesn’t realize that he has a beracha, then he is a poor man. The pasuk says “Open Your Hand, and satisfy all life, with will” [Tehillim 145:16]. We say this pasuk (in Ashrei) three times a day. We understand the words “Poteach et Yadecha, u’Masbia l’chol chai” (Open your hand and provide sustenance for all life). But what is the meaning of the word “Ratzon” (with will)? “Ratzon” is that the recipient will be happy with it, not only physically satisfied, but psychologically satisfied, as well.

That too, is what the blessing referred to earlier is about. “And all these Blessings will come upon you…”. Fine, but that is not sufficient. “…and they will reach their purpose (v’hisigucha).” — the recipient will be happy with the Beracha and he will realize that it is a blessing. Without that realization, one has no Beracha.

At the end of the Tochacha [pessukiim of rebuke in the Parsha], the pasuk says that these ninety-eight terrible curses come “as the result of your not having served Hashem your G-d, with joy and with good spirit (b’simcha u’vtuv leivav) when you had an abundance of everything” [Devorim 28:47]. This is an unbelievable statement. It seems very harsh that such terrible curses should befall the Jewish people, just because the people are lacking what seems to be a “hidur mitzvah” [being happy while performing a mitzvah] which is not absolutely necessary.

Moreover, there is another difficulty: Our Rabbi’s tell us that the Tochacha that we find at the end of Sefer Vayikra corresponded historically to the events of the First Temple period; this Tochacha — in Parsahat Ki Tavo— is referring to the period leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple. We all know that the Rabbi’s tell us that the reason the Second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed was because of baseless hatred (sin’at chinam). So these two teachings of Chaza”l seem contradictory. What was the reason for the destruction of the second Temple — Was it ‘baseless hatred’ or was it ‘failure to serve G-d with joy’?

Perhaps there is no contradiction. The Torah is referring to the underlying cause of the churban Bayit Sheni [destruction of the Second Temple]. The underlying cause of the churban Bayit Sheni was lack of Simcha [joy]. Failure to serve Hashem with joy, in turn, leads to Sinat Chinam.

What does this mean? Chaza”l say that Talmidei Chachomim increase peace in the world. Rav Chatzkel Abramsky, z”tl wrote, that a person who is a Talmid Chachom, in the real sense of the word, is a person who is at peace with himself. He is happy and satisfied with what he is accomplishing in life. As a result, he exudes his inner happiness and inner peace and that has an effect on other people.

When a person is happy with himself, the feeling is contagious. He is willing to share that peace and that happiness. Those feelings affect other people. When a person is not happy with himself, he is miserable and he dislikes other people’s happiness or success. Just as happiness rubs off, so too unhappiness rubs off and such a person cannot be satisfied with anyone else’s success. Chaza”l are telling us that because you were not happy with your lot and you were not b’simcha, therefore the consequence is baseless hatred. When a person is not happy with himself, he cannot tolerate others having any kind of happiness either.

There is thus no contradiction. The Second Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinom, but Sinat Chinom results from people who are not happy with themselves, are not b’simcha, and are not doing mitzvot b’simcha. The Torah commands us in the Book of Devarim, תמים תהיה עם ה' אלקיך, which the Maharal explains to mean that one must feel “whole” and complete, that he lacks nothing, that Hashem has given him everything he needs. Although human nature is to feel perpetually dissatisfied and to always want more. As the Rabbi’s taught, יש לו מנה רוצה מאתיים – a person who has one hundred wants two hundred, and a person who has two hundred wants four hundred.

There was a Rabbi who was close with a very wealthy man. The Rabbi noticed that the man worked tirelessly, never allowing himself a break, to the point where he barely had time for anything besides his work. Finally, one day the Rabbi asked the man, “Tell me, how much money do you need to be able to take a break and feel content with what you have?”

The man thought for a few moments and then said, “$100 million.” “And how much do you have now?” the Rabbi asked. “$50 million. Exactly as Hazal said – a person always feels he needs twice as much as he already has.

I once heard a story told of a businessman who was vacationing on a certain island and he noticed the fishermen fishing every day. There was one fisherman who stopped fishing early every day, several hours before the others, and so the businessman approached him to ask why he stopped fishing so early. The fisherman answered, “When I catch enough fish to support my family,” the man explained, “I go for a stroll with the senora along the beach, and then I go home to my children and we enjoy a family barbeque together.”

“But I see you are a very skilled fisherman,” the vacationing businessman said, “and if you continued for another few hours every day, you could catch twice as much fish.” “Yes,” the fisherman acknowledged, “but what would I do then?” “You could sell the fish and make extra money.” “What would I do then?”“You could use the extra money to buy a small boat and sail into the ocean, where you can catch even more fish.” “Ok, but what would I do then?” “You could sell all that fish and have enough money to buy a large ship. I will be your partner, and we can go deep into the ocean and catch very large fish and sell them for a lot of money.” “And then what?” “You could open stores all over the island selling your fish.”

“And then what?” “Eventually, you’ll catch so much fish that you could ship it overseas and become very wealthy.” “And what would I do then, when I’m very wealthy?” “You’d be able to retire, so every day you can take nice strolls with your wife along the beach and enjoy family barbeques.”

Let us recognize all the blessings that Hashem has already bestowed upon us so we can take advantage of them now, feeling happy and content, and living life to its very fullest without always worrying about what tomorrow will bring.

May we all realize as we come close to Rosh Hashanah that we are not in control of our livelihood as much as we may think we are. Let us all take advantage of the great opportunity that Hashem is giving us for another year of life and sustenance. Let us also be happy with our mitzvot and with all the blessings that Hashem bestows upon us and most importantly let us be able to see and realize all that Hashem does for us is only good! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

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