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Parshas Ki Savo
That you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you. (26:20)
The mitzvah of Bikurim is unique. The Torah refers to Bikurim as "reishis pri," the first fruit. The first words of the Torah are "Bereishis bara Elokim," "In the beginning Hashem created." The Midrash comments that Hashem created the world in the merit of Bikurim, which is called reishis. When the farmers who were bringing their first fruits to Yerusholayim would come with their produce, all of the artisans would halt their work to pay their respects to them. Although it is forbidden for a workman to take time off from his work to speak to anyone, he is permitted in this situation-out of an overriding sense of respect for the mitzvah of Bikurim.
Why is this mitzvah so special that it is given "favored" status? The Alshich Ha'kadosh explains that Bikurim are man's way of showing his gratitude to Hashem. The importance of hakoras ha'tov, recognizing, appreciating and showing gratitude to the One Who gives us everything, is a behavioral mitzvah of acute significance. One must reflect and cogently recognize that everything comes from the Almighty. Everything stops when this mitzvah is being performed, so that people will become inculcated with the importance of hakoras ha'tov. Horav Shalom Eisen, zl, was a moreh tzedek, arbiter of Jewish law, in Yerusholayim for over half-a-century. Appreciation and gratitude were more than mere words in his lexicon; they constituted his way of life. When he was very ill, a group of yeshivah students addressed his needs. He was prepared to move heaven and earth for these young men, in response to his sense of gratitude to them. He attended their simchos, joyous occasions, regardless of the distance and personal physical difficulty involved in getting there. This did not yet demonstrate his sense of gratitude. As his illness progressed, he became less and less mobile: his legs were weakened; his eyesight had dimmed; his body was wracked with pain. He traveled to America in search of medical treatment that might avert the course of his devastating illness.
Regrettably, he returned to Eretz Yisrael still a very sick man, who was slowly succumbing to the effects of his disease.
It was Purim, usually a time of joy. That year, the joy was marred with the news that the venerable gadol hador, Torah luminary, leader of the generation, Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, had passed away. His levayah, funeral, was to take place in Yerusholayim on Purim, which is celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar, a day after it is celebrated everywhere else. Rav Shalom wanted badly to attend. His son would not hear of it, claiming that in his father's debilitating physical state he was not obligated to attend. His weakness overcame his desire to attend, and he deferred to his son's decision. He told his son, however, "According to halachah, Jewish law, you should assemble a minyan, quorum of ten Jewish males, and go to Rav Moshe's kever, grave, to implore mechilah, forgiveness, on my behalf, for not attending his funeral. His son was shocked and responded, "But father, you had no koach, strength, to attend."
Rav Shalom looked at his son and said, "You are right. From the standpoint of halvoyas ha'm'es, paying final respects and attending the funeral of another Jew, even one so great as Rav Moshe, but what about my hakoras ha'tov that I owe him? When I was in America, lying in the hospital, my body wracked with pain and agony, do you know who came to visit me? None other than the gadol hador, Rav Moshe! I owe him! I have no recourse for absolving myself from my obligation of hakoras ha'tov other than imploring his neshamah's forgiveness. I have no teretz, excuse, to "justify" my lack of attendance. You must go to his grave and beg his forgiveness for me." We now have "some" idea of our responsibility for repaying our obligation to others.
Rav Shalom derived a significant lesson in hakoras ha'tov from his own rebbe, the great ga'on, Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl. When his son became a bar mitzvah, Rav Shalom invited his close friends to the kiddush on Shabbos. Out of respect for his rebbe, he sent an invitation to Rav Isser Zalmen. His rebbe's advanced age and deteriorating health would never permit him to entertain the idea of making the long walk to Rav Shalom's apartment, which also happened to be four flights up.
The kiddush was graced by Yerusholayim's greatest Torah luminaries. Indeed, every table was a "head" table. Suddenly, the door opened up, and in walked Rav Isser Zalmen. Seeing his rebbe standing there bedecked in his Shabbos garb, the shine of Torah emanating from his visage, he, together with everyone in attendance, stopped everything and stared incredulously. "How is it that the Rosh ha'yeshivah troubled himself to walk such a long distance?" they all asked. He responded, "It is true that it was a long and difficult walk, much more than my body can handle, but, I owe a debt of gratitude to the baal simchah, host. Because of him, I came." Rav Isser Zalmen proceeded to explain, "When I received the bar-mitzvah invitation, a shocking thought ran through my mind. It was just 'yesterday' that I had attended Rav Shalom's wedding, and now he's already celebrating his son's bar-mitzvah. Time flies; I must 'do teshuvah,' repent, before it is too late. This hirhur teshuvah, thought of repentance, was motivated indirectly by Rav Shalom. I owe him a debt of gratitude. Therefore, I came to join in his simchah."
Before we ask ourselves which story conveys a more powerful message, we should reflect upon how distant we are from action on a par with either one.
Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with gladness and with goodness of heart. (28:47)
From the early days of Ezra ha'Sofer, the custom among the Jewish People has been to read the "Tochechah," curses, of Parashas Ki Savo close to Rosh Hashanah. In the Talmud Megillah 31b, Chazal explain that it serves as a good omen, so that "tichleh shanah v'kilelosehah," the year with its curses should end. Upon perusing the parsha with its terrible curses, one is shocked and horrified at the extent of Hashem's anger against those who willfully and knowingly rebel against him. What is more jarring is the fact that, for the most part, many of the curses have befallen us. We have only to turn back the pages of history sixty years to note the cataclysmic destruction that was wrought against our people.
What were the spiritual conditions that comprised the precursors of the tragedies that befell us? After all, if we are to prevent these calamities from revisiting us, we must be acutely aware of their cause. The Torah presents a powerful idea, which at first might not seem significant; but, after careful consideration, we see that it is the primary source of so much of our pain and affliction. "Tachas asher lo ovadeta es Hashem Elokecha b'simchah u'vetov leivav meirov kol." Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with gladness and with goodness of heart. While serving the Almighty with joy is certainly a virtue, does the lack thereof warrant such retribution? Moreover, the Torah itself begins the Tochechah by saying, "But, it will be that if you do not listen to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, to perform all His commandments and all His decrees." (28:15)
How do we reconcile the two disparate reasons, unless we were to say that one leads to another? Mitzvah performance devoid of feeling, a service to the Almighty bereft of joy, will ultimately lead to total alienation from Torah and mitzvos. Indeed, a number of the commentators espouse this view. The Mesilas Yesharim writes that the knowledge that one is able to serve the Almighty, to study His Torah, and to observe His mitzvos should bring one to joy and ecstasy. This is the ultimate sheleimus, perfection, that one can achieve. Yet, we are hard-pressed to understand the underlying reason for the curses. If one does not achieve perfection resulting from joy in mitzvah performance, is he deserving of such grave punishment? Horav Moshe Leib Sassover, zl, claims that a lack of joy stands at the root of all spiritual deficiencies. While the actual destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh was the result of Klal Yisrael's abandoning the Torah, the source was in our complacent, cold attitude. To paraphrase the Lev Simchah, "If mitzvah performance and serving Hashem would be dear to a person more-so than anything else in the world, it would be impossible to sin."
A spiritual downfall does not happen over-night. It is a slow digression in which a lack of joy leads to total non-observance and regrettably, later on, to harboring animus toward those who adhere and observe. One should have an internal connection to Torah and mitzvos. The joy inherent in their observance demonstrates this internal bond.
How does one develop this simchah? How does one attain this pinnacle of observance? Horav Shmelke, zl, m'Nikolsburg, says that the primary source of joy should be the knowledge that Hashem has chosen us from among all the nations and that He has separated us from those who have strayed. He has distinguished us from those who are lost, who wander around aimlessly, searching, seeking, lost without any clue as to their past, their future and even their present. It is told that the Tzemach Tzedek was once asked by one of his chasidim, what he should do to be able to act with the joy necessary for complete mitzvah observance. The rebbe, taken aback, responded, "Is it conceivable that one would not be constantly replete with joy?" Indeed, the mere fact that he can daily recite the blessing of "shelo osani goi," "That He has not made me a goi, that He has created me as a Jew," should be one's greatest source of joy. Keeping this notion in mind should serve as a compelling, motivating factor to enhance one's feeling of joy.
There is one slight problem, however. In order to establish this sense of joy, one must cleanse himself of all spiritual deficiencies and impure thoughts. Only then can he achieve the optimum plateau of joy in mitzvos. Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa says that this idea is inferred from the words "u'betuv leivav," "and with goodness of heart." He explains that the word "tuv" is related to "cleansing," as in the service of preparing the wicks of the Menorah. They would prepare the wicks, cleansing the lamps from the past days; impurities and remains, in a process called hatovas ha'neiros. The new oil was able to burn clean, its flame brilliant and clear, as a result of this cleaning. Taharas ha'lev, purifying the heart, cleansing it of any indiscretions and impurities, is an inherent component in the process of developing our sense of joy in mitzvah performance.
This exemplary sense of devotion is demonstrated in any of a number of ways throughout the dynamics of living as a Torah Jew. Under times of duress, during periods of incredible trial and challenge, our faith and commitment is put to the supreme test: to serve, or not to serve; to maintain our sense of joy, to retain our feelings of gladness despite being subject to pain, cruel punishment, persecution and affliction, or to let go and defer to our natural instincts. Countless stories detail the spiritual heroism of our people during such periods of tribulation. One especially poignant story that comes to mind took place during World War II, in a concentration camp where the accursed Nazis were carrying out their final solution against the Jews. A survivor of Auschwitz writes that one day as he was lying on his cot, he observed the assistant commander enter the barracks carrying a rubber truncheon with which to beat someone. Beatings were common as a means of "punishing" the prisoners for their lack of "discipline." Usually, they would use a wooden stick which would break as a result of the beatings. They were now introducing a more reliable tool for disciplining the prisoners. The Nazi went over to one of the cots and stood over a fourteen-year-old boy, who was apparently expecting him. "Get down," the assistant commander yelled at him. The boy bent over, and the Nazi began to beat him. Slowly, a group of men gathered around the young boy and watched each lash, counting the blows individually. The boy did not cry, nor did he yell; he did not even sigh. To everyone's amazement, he showed no emotion whatsoever. Usually, the beatings did not extend beyond the twenty-five mark. This time it was past thirty and counting. When the attacker passed forty blows, he turned the boy over and began to beat him on his legs and head. Still, the boy did not respond. Not a cry, not a moan, not a whimper - not even a sigh. A boy of fourteen - and he did not even give a sigh!
The Nazi beast became angry when he passed the number fifty and there was still no response from the boy. He left disgusted. The other prisoners gathered around the beaten child and picked him up. His head was bruised. A large red welt was evident across his forehead from one of the smashes of the rubber truncheon. When he was asked why he was subject to the beating, the boy answered, "It was all worth it. Every blow was well worth it. I brought my friends a few Siddurim, so that they could pray." He added nothing; he said no more as he got up and climbed onto his cot. He sat there, his face not contorted with pain, but rather, aglow with gladness, knowing that he was beaten so that others could daven.
v Perhaps, the next time we open our Siddur to supplicate Hashem, it might serve us well to remember this young boy. Indeed, it might even enhance our tefillos.
But Hashem did not give you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day. (29:3)
Rashi writes, "I have heard that on the day that Moshe Rabbeinu gave the Book of the Torah to Bnei Levi, all of Klal Yisrael came to Moshe and said to him, "Moshe Rabbeinu! Our Master, we, too, stood at Har Sinai, and we accepted the Torah. It was given to us. Why do you put the sons of your tribe in charge of it, so that one day they may say to us, "'It was not given to you, it was given to us'?" Moshe rejoiced over the matter. In response, he said to them, "This day you have become a People to Hashem your G-d: This day I have understood that you cleave to and desire the Omnipresent.
v The Slonimer Rebbe, zl, cites the Rav m'Lechuvitch, who explains the meaning of "until this day." After all, Klal Yisrael had certainly exhibited mesiras nefesh, dedication to the point of self-sacrifice, for Hashem and His command. Did they not slaughter the sheep, the Egyptian godhead, for the Korban Pesach? They walked into the Red Sea with the water churning up to their necks, because of their belief in Hashem. Is that not mesiras nefesh? He says that now Moshe saw their chavivus, love, for the Torah. True, they were willing to sacrifice themselves for the Torah, but, until they had come forward to demand their share in the Torah, they had not yet demonstrated their love. It is one thing to be willing to give up everything for the Torah, it is yet another to love it. Klal Yisrael achieved that lofty level of love. They displayed an understanding and appreciation of the Torah that manifests itself in love for the Torah.
QUSTIONS AND ANSWERS
1) Do all fruits come under the obligation of Bikurim?
2) When the Torah refers to Eretz Yisrael as a land "flowing with milk and honey," what type of honey does it mean? 3) How many times a year may one make the Bikurim declaration?
4) Which Maaser is given to the ger?
5) A. How many times did Klal Yisrael set up stones? B. Where did they set them up?
6) A. The _______ curses corresponded to _______tribes. Which tribe was not included?
1) No. Only the seven species by which Eretz Yisrael is praised.
2) Honey derived from dates.
3) Only once a year. 4) Maaser Ani.
5) A. Three times.
v B. The first time they set up twelve stones in the Yarden: Then, a corresponding number in Gilgal and Har Eival. Actually, the stones of Har Eival were moved to Gilgal.
6) A. 11; 11; Shimon. B. Since he did not plan to bless him, he did not want to curse him.
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