Parashat Ki Tavo
Dedicated in Honor of My Wife by Albert Gammal
Parashat Ki Tavo
Bikkurim – First Fruits
This week’s parasha contains the mitzvah of Bikkurim – 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 year, other things were brought to Yerushaliyam like Ma’aser Sheni.
Rabbi Chaim 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. Whether 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 Beresheet lists Bikkurim as the cause for the creation of the whole world! The Alshich 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, 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).”
Bikkurim comes to counteract such thoughts. It comes to teach us that it’s G-d’s land, it’s G-d’s sustenance, and it’s G-d’s Hand that has given us the power to gain wealth. 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 sustenance. These concepts are foundations and fundamentals of the Torah. That is why this mitzvah is so special.
A person must realize that it’s not his brains, talents, or cleverness that help him acquire wealth. 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.
Rabbi Ashear told a story about a rabbi in Los Angeles who experienced the great Hand of Hashem. He had a slight cough that turned into pneumonia, and his doctor recommended he go to the hospital to get IV antibiotics. He went to Cedar Sinai Hospital, the best hospital in LA. He got evaluated, and they informed him the doctors in the hospital didn’t take his insurance. He was prepared to pay, but the doctor told him, “Don’t waste your money. This is a pretty standard case. Go to your local hospital and let them give you IV and you’ll be fine.”
He went to a local hospital that took his insurance, and everything was fine. He made a swift recovery. He was set to be discharged on a Friday afternoon. The rabbi’s wife left to prepare for Shabbat while the hospital prepared the rabbi for discharge, and one of the rabbi’s students came to keep him company in the meantime. While the student was there, the nurse came in and said, “Okay, you’re free to go!” The rabbi got up and got his things together, and suddenly lost his color. The student asked his rabbi if he felt okay, and the rabbi said, “No, please call the nurse.” The nurse came in and looked at him and called, out “Code Blue, cardiac arrest! Cardiology to Room 204!!” No one responded. The nurse was frantically paging the cardiology department in the hospital, but no one was answering. Someone walked out of the room next door to the rabbi’s and said, “I’m a cardiologist I can help you.” The top Cedar Sinai cardiologist happened to be visiting his friend in the next room.
The doctor went to work on the rabbi. His heart had stopped, but the doctor helped to bring him back. Hashem put the rabbi exactly where he needed to be just at the right time!!
Whether the gifts from Hashem are seemingly small and unnoticeable, or life-saving and obvious like this rabbi’s story, we must “bring Bikkurim,” and have immense gratitude and hakarat hatov for all the amazing things Hashem does for us.
Saying Thank You to Hashem
David HaMelech wrote in Tehillim, Perek 105, “Thank Hashem and call His Name—inform the nations of His wonders.” The Zohar says, “We are obligated to tell the world about the miracles that Hashem does.” By doing so, we sanctify Hashem’s Name and His honor is magnified both in the spiritual and in the physical realms.
Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk teaches that when we tell about the wonders and miracles that Hashem performs, we invoke more wonders and miracles. But, if a person attributes the amazing things that happen in life to natural phenomena, he no longer sees miracles. Even worse, he is left to the mercy of natural phenomena.
So many miracles happen to people in every facet of life. As soon as they decide to live their lives with gratitude and thank Hashem for everything, they benefitted outright miracles and their lives turned around for the best. Childless mothers are suddenly expecting. Debtors no longer owe people money. Unmarried people are suddenly finding their soulmates. Sick people with no hope in sight suddenly recover. How? They say, “Thank You” and see miracles.
“This is the gate of Hashem through which the righteous and holy ones shall enter. I thank You, for You have answered me and become my salvation (Tehillim 118:19-20).” We learn from these pesukim that when someone lives his life with gratitude, he is called holy and righteous. And when someone is thankful, all the gates of salvation are open to him.
Rabbi Arush says in his book, “Say Thank You, See Miracles,” that when we pray to Hashem with requests like parnassah, health, shidduchim, or children, the Satan stands in front of Hashem and says, “Look at all the sins done by this person, why grant his requests?” But when a person prefaces his prayers with true gratitude—even for the challenges and deficiencies that Hashem has bestowed upon him—the Satan can’t argue against him, and Hashem grants the requests without question.
We must emphasize the great responsibility that comes with this. Many learn about being grateful and having hakarat hatov, but they don’t understand just how much of a basic obligation this is. They think it is just a nice idea and a positive character trait to work on. But that’s not so! Gratitude is the first step in having a true connection with Hashem. It is not only our duty to sing His praises, but also the responsibility of every created being to give thanks, to praise, to glorify, to magnify, and to exalt His Holy Name (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Haim 230:5). Rambam, in his conclusion of the Hilchot Berachot says, “Ask for mercy in the future, yet thank Hashem for everything in the past. The more one thanks Hashem, the more it is praiseworthy.”
The Blessings Will Reach You
A series of blessings are mentioned in the preface to the tocheha, the pessukim of rebuke in this parasha. The Torah says, “And these blessings will come upon you and they will reach you—v’hisigucha (Devarim 28:2).” Virtually all 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 Bet Av, Rav Schlessinger. The passuk in parashat Bechukotai tells us, “And you will eat your bread and be satisfied (Vayikra 26:5).” Rashi 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, 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 whose partners bought him out of a business deal against his will and gave him back his $250,000 investment, which made him quite upset. But he strongly believed that Hashem would take care of him and not make him miss out. Not long after that, he was approached by another friend of his who offered to go into a different deal with the same $250,000 that he just received back. The new deal, over time, grew 100 times greater than the first deal 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 fortune and success, but if he doesn’t realize that he has beracha, then he is a poor man. The passuk says “Open Your hand, and satisfy all life, with will (Tehillim 145:16).” We say this passuk in Ashrei three times a day. We understand the words “Poteach et Yadecha, u’masbia l’chol chai,” 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 enough. “…and they will reach you—v’hisigucha.” The recipient will be happy with the beracha and he will realize that it is a blessing.
Serve Hashem B’Simha
At the end of the tocheha, the passuk says that ninety-eight terrible curses will come “as the result of your not having served Hashem your G-d, with joy and with good spirit—b’simha u’vtuv leivav—when you had an abundance of everything (Devarim 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 Rabbis tell us that the tocheha that we find at the end of Sefer Vayikra corresponded historically to the events of the First Temple period and that this tocheha in Parsahat Ki Tavo is referring to the period leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple. However, we know that the Rabbis tell us that the Second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred, sinat hinam. 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 chorban Bayit Sheni. The destruction of the Second Temple was an overall lack of simha, or joy. Failure to serve Hashem with joy, in turn, leads to sinat hinam.
When a person is happy with himself and with what Hashem gives him, 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 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’simha, a natural consequence of that is baseless hatred. When a person is not happy with himself, he cannot tolerate others having any kind of happiness either. Therefore, there is no contradiction.
As we come close to Rosh Hashanah, may we all realize that Hashem gives us challenges in order for us to come closer to Him and to believe in His strength and miracles. May we all take advantage of the great opportunity that Hashem is giving us for another year of life and sustenance. Let us also say thank You and be happy with all the blessings that Hashem bestows upon us. And most importantly, may we be able to see and realize all that Hashem does for us is only good! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Although we all appreciate what Hashem gives us, do we consciously make an effort to say thank You to Hashem?
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