Parashat Ki Tavo
Dedicated for the Refuah Shelemah of Moshe ben Rachel, Yehudah ben Rachel, Miriam bat Rachel, Leah bat Rachel, Daniel ben Rachel, and Rav Eliyah Dov Ben Chavah Esther
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 reached the gates of Jerusalem, additional verses and praises were recited. It was a very elaborate ceremony. Other things were brought to Yerushalayim during the year, like maaser 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 the people. Whether it be material or 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 this entire world’s creation. The Alshich explains that bikkurim represents two fundamental principles of Judaism. Farmers know that cultivating crops 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 will happen to his crop. There can be droughts, floods, or pests. Everything can go wrong, and so often, it does. Here we have a successful person with a bountiful crop in front of him. It is easy for such a person to think, “It was my strength and the power of MY hand that made me this great wealth (18:17).”
Bikkurim counteracts such thoughts. It teaches us that it’s G-d’s land, G-d’s sustenance, and G-d’s Hand that has given us the power to gain wealth. A person must appreciate this and recognize the favor. Bikkurim helps a person understand 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.
Saying Thank You to Hashem
Rabbi Shalom Arush quotes in his book Say “Thank You” and See Miracles that David Hamelech wrote, “Thank Hashem and call His Name—inform the nations of His wonders (Tehillim 105).” The Zohar says, “We are obligated to tell the world about the miracles Hashem does.” By doing so, we sanctify Hashem’s name, and His honor is magnified in both the spiritual and physical realms. Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk teaches that when we talk about the wonders and miracles that Hashem performs, we invoke more wonders and miracles. But, if a person attributes the wonderful things that happen in life to natural phenomena, he no longer sees them as miracles. Even worse, he is left at the mercy of natural phenomena.
So many miracles happen to people in every facet of life. As soon as they decided to live with gratitude and thank Hashem for everything, they benefited from outright miracles, and their lives turned around. Childless mothers were suddenly expecting. Debtors no longer owed people money. Unmarried people were suddenly finding their soulmates. Sick people with no hope in sight suddenly recovered. How? They said, “thank You,” and saw 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 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 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 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 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 (10:26).”
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, vehisigucha—and they will reach you (28:2).” Virtually all the commentaries are bothered by the expression “vehisigucha.” Would it not have been sufficient to say, “All these blessings will come upon you?”
What does “vehisigucha—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 satisfied even though he has only 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 riches — health, family, and wealth — but if a person does not realize it, if he’s never happy, if there always needs to be more, then what good is the blessing? It becomes meaningless!
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, physically and psychologically satisfied.
That, too, is what the blessing is about. “And all these blessings will come upon you….” Fine, but that is not enough. “…and they will reach you—vehisigucha.” The recipient will be happy with the beracha and realize he’s been blessed.
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, b’simcha u’vtuv levav—with joy and with good spirit when you had an abundance of everything (28:47).” This is an unbelievable statement. It seems very harsh that such terrible curses should befall the Jewish people just because they are lacking what appears to be a hidur mitzvah—extra beautification of a mitzvah, which is not absolutely necessary.
Moreover, 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 Parashat 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 sinat chinam—baseless hatred. So these two teachings of Chazal seem contradictory. What was the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple? Was it baseless hatred or failure to serve G-d with joy?
Perhaps there is no contradiction. The Torah refers to the underlying cause of the Chorban Bayit Sheni. The destruction of the Second Temple was an overall lack of simcha—joy. In turn, failure to serve Hashem with joy leads to sinat chinam.
Feelings are contagious. When a person is happy with himself and what Hashem gives him, he is willing to share that peace and that happiness. Those feelings affect other people. When a person is unhappy, he dislikes other people’s happiness or success, and a natural consequence is sinat chinam. Therefore, there is no contradiction.
Praising Hashem for His Kindness
Rabbi Biderman said in Torah Wellsprings, Reb Menachem Mendel of Linsk, said, “One must praise Hashem for the kindness Hashem bestows on him all the time, all types of kindness, the revealed and concealed.” There was a bachur, a yatom—orphan, and his Rosh Yeshivah, Reb Yehudah Zev Segal of Manchester, ZT’L, advised him, “Every night when you pray arbit, and you say the words, “nisech shebechol yom imanu—Your miracles that all day are with us,” I want you to think of a miracle that happened to you that day.”
The boy grew up and he’s a very chashuv talmid chacham in London. “For forty years, every night I did and continue to do what my Rosh Yeshivah recommended, and I can testify that there wasn’t one day all these years that I didn't find some miracle to praise Hashem for.”
Reb Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, ZT’L, explained that it’s a segulah to remember all the kindnesses Hashem granted him that day during Modim in Amidah. It is a proven and true segulah to free a person from all worries.
A Midrash tells the following story. A talmid chacham was traveling with an innkeeper when they met a poor, blind man collecting money on the outskirts of a city. The talmid chacham gave tzedakah, and he urged the innkeeper to do the same, but the innkeeper replied, “You know him, so you gave him tzedakah. I don't know him, so I won't give him anything.”
They walked further, and the Malach Hamavet appeared to them and said to the talmid chacham, “You gave tzedakah, so your life will be spared, and you’ll live another fifty years.” Then he turned to the innkeeper. “But your final day has arrived.” The innkeeper begged, “Let me give tzedakah now!” But the Satan explained to him that it was too late. He had lost his opportunity.
The innkeeper, stoic, said, “Before you take me, just allow me to praise Hashem for all the kindness He has done for me throughout my lifetime. Then I will come with you.” The Malach Hamavet paused and then decreed, “Since you want to praise Hashem, years have been added to your life. You will not be going with me today.”
We learn from this story the great benefit of counting Hashem’s kindnesses. Yes, tzedakah is lifesaving, and we should aspire to give as much charity as possible. However, praising Hashem for His infinite chessed can offer a great amount of protection as well.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, may we all praise Hashem loudly for His miracles and kindness, both big and small. 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!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
Although we all appreciate what Hashem gives us, do we consciously make the effort to say thank You to Hashem?
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