Parashat Ki Tavo
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat and In Loving Memory of Estelle Hedaya, You Will Be Greatly Missed by Albert Liniado
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 Yerushalayim 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 Jerusalem, additional verses and praises were recited. It was a very elaborate ceremony. 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 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 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. Whether the gifts from Hashem are seemingly small and unnoticeable, or life-saving and obvious, 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 decided to live their lives with gratitude and thank Hashem for everything, they benefited from 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. 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 tochecha, 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! 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’Simcha At the end of the tochecha, 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’simcha u’vtuv levav—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 tochecha that we find at the end of Sefer Vayikra corresponded historically to the events of the First Temple period and that this tochecha 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 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 chorban Bayit Sheni. The destruction of the Second Temple was an overall lack of simcha, or joy. Failure to serve Hashem with joy, in turn, leads to sinat chinam. 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’simcha, 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. Elul Rabbi Yoel Gold told a story about a school in L.A. who had their annual trustee dinner. They planned an elaborate gala and flew in a famous violinist from Israel, Shimi Weitzhandler, as the star entertainment. When Shimi landed, his host for the trip picked him up at the airport, drove him home to settle and drop off his things, and Shimi purposely left his violin in the car and only brought in his suitcase. He and his host got in the car and drove to the dinner, over an hour away at the Herzog Winery. When they pulled up to the winery, Shimi opened the trunk and was shocked and confused, his violin was missing! It turned out, the person who was hosting him had picked Shimi up at the airport in his wife’s car, and then drove him in his own car to the event. The host also had the only key to his wife’s car in his pocket, and so he would have to drive over an hour to unlock the car and get the violin, and another hour to come back. By then, the dinner would be over. Shimi was mortified and devastated. He couldn’t believe what a blunder he made. The mistake would haunt him on his way back to Israel and for the entire next year. A year later, the school administrator who originally booked Shimi for the previous year’s event, called Shimi in Israel. He said, “We’re having the annual trustee dinner, and even though last year did not work out, we were hoping you could come play for us this year.” Shimi was ecstatic, thrilled to be given a second chance! All through the event, Shimi had a huge smile on his face while he played for the donors for this big yeshivah. This Elul, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, Hashem is granting us another chance to correct our blunders and mistakes from the past year. Hashem invites us back again and gives us the opportunity to make things right. As we come close to Rosh Hashanah, may we all realize that Hashem gives us second chances to do better, to come closer to Him, and to become greater people. 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. Amen! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
Although we all appreciate what Hashem gives us, do we consciously make an effort to say thank You to Hashem?
This week’s parasha contains the mitzvah of Bikkurim – bringing the first produce from one’s crops to Yerushalayim. The concept of bringing the first fruits to the Kohen is meant to demonstrate hakarat hatov—gratitude for all that Hashem has given us.
A person that plants his crops knows that farming is one of the most difficult professions in the world. It is very easy for such a person to think, it was his own hands that helped him acquire wealth. But he must bring his first fruits to the Kohen, to show that he knows it was Hashem's blessings that made him produce.
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.
When a person prefaces his prayers with true gratitude—even for the challenges and deficiencies that Hashem has bestowed upon him—Hashem grants the requests without question.
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.
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?’ The destruction of the Second Temple was an overall lack of simcha, or joy. Failure to serve Hashem with joy leads to sinat chinam, because when someone is not happy what Hashem gives him, he is not joyous for others, and that leads to baseless hatred.
As we come close to Rosh Hashanah, may we all realize that Hashem gives us second chances to do better, to come closer to Him, and to become greater people.
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