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SEPTEMBER 7-8, 2001 20 ELUL 5761

Pop Quiz: What is the first misvah discussed in this perashah?

- Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground" (Debarim 28:4)

We live in a time where everything must be calculated. We want to know how much something will cost us before we make the move. Usually, this is the wise and prudent way to go. We can all remember the many times that we were confronted with the hidden costs and the small print items that we missed. However, there are times when we must not calculate and go forward. In our perashah we are told of great blessing that will come our way if we listen to Hashem. One blessing is the blessing of the womb, many healthy children, and another is the blessing of our fields, better known as our livelihood. The Oznayim Latorah notices the order of these two blessings and teaches us a very valuable lesson. As we mentioned, people like to calculate the costs in advance. How much will the next baby cost me? Space in the house, education costs, etc. Our Sages teach us that every infant born into the world is born with his own loaf of bread. He is born together with the means to support him. However, this is after the baby is born. If you calculate the costs beforehand, it won't add up; there will not be enough.

Hashem is telling us: I will bless your womb. Have the child and I will bless your fields. After you receive the blessing of the child you will feel the blessing of the livelihood.

If you want to calculate, then add up how much happiness and joy a very large family will bring you! Shabbat Shalom.

- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy" (Debarim 28:47)

The Torah lists a long string of misfortunes that may befall the Jewish people (G-d forbid). Indeed, some of the events mentioned in these curses are very tragic and have happened to our nation throughout history. The reason given for this harsh conduct by Hashem against us is that we did not serve Hashem with happiness.

The Ari z"l gives this verse a twist and learns it in a novel fashion. The reason for these curses is that when we did not serve Hashem, we did it with happiness, which means that when we were doing sins, we did them with a good feeling rather than with regret and remorse.

This has to teach us that not only our actions count but even our attitudes while doing these actions. If we end up doing something wrong, we have to feel badly even while doing it so that it's not considered as if we did the wrong thing with happiness. One of the methods of following this advice is by doing misvot with happiness. If we feel good when doing the right thing, even if we sometimes fall and do the wrong thing it will not be with joy but with reluctance and hopefully regret. That way we will tend to increase those things which we associate with happiness, which are the misvot, and stay away from those things which we are doing without happiness! Shabbat Shalom.


"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy and gladness of heart" (Debarim 28:47)

This pasuk implies that the source of all punishment is serving Hashem with a lack of joy. The Arizal states that precisely because the Jewish people worshipped Hashem in an unenthusiastic manner, without vitality and joy, they would ultimately serve their enemies. Joy is an essential component of serving Hashem. Indeed, if we had not failed to serve Hashem with joy, we would not have been exiled.

The Yalkut Me'am Loez explains this idea with a simple, but profound analogy. The king of a certain country had a son who was not controllable. His unrestrained acts of self-indulgence often were a source of embarrassment to his father. Whenever his father was about to punish him, the son would put on a sweet angelic smile. When the father observed the happiness and sweet innocence in his son's eyes, it became difficult for him to execute his planned punishment.

This, explains the Yalkut, is a powerful deterrent from punishment. When Hashem sees the apparent joy and happiness coming from an individual's performance of a misvah, He defers punishment. Joy in performing misvot is essential. Even if a person is intellectually aware of the significance of Torah and appreciates the value of Torah life, he must experience this through joy. Unless one recognizes the inherent joy with which Judaism imbues us, he may turn elsewhere to pursue happiness. (Peninim on the Torah)


"You shall take from the first of every fruit of the ground" (Debarim 26:2)

Rashi writes, "A person goes down into his field and when he sees a ripe fig, he would tie a 'gemi' - a blade of grass - to its stem and declare, 'This is bikurim (first fruit).'" Why particularly a gemi?

A farmer works hard plowing his field, tilling the soil and seeding the ground. When he comes into the field and sees his fruit beginning to grow, he may be carried away with his success, thinking, "Kochi ve'osem yadi asah li et hahayil hazeh - My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth" (8:17), and forget that the wonders of nature are in reality the works and doing of Hashem.

The word gemi is an acronym for "gedolim ma'asei hashem - Great are the wonders of Hashem." When the farmer sees the toil of his hands reaching fruition and the fruit beginning to cover the ground, he should immediately tie a "gemi" to it - realize that it is the great work of Hashem and praise Him for it. (Vedibarta Bam)


"And the Egyptians wronged us (lit. made us bad) and they afflicted us" (Debarim 26:6)

The Torah uses the Hebrew term otanu (made us bad) instead of lanu (made it bad for us). The verse is telling us, therefore, that before the Egyptians afflicted our forefathers they first mounted a slander campaign against them and made them appear evil in the eyes of others. Only after they had everyone thinking that the Israelites were evil and not worthy of standard human rights could they make their decrees against them, and the rest of their people accepted this otherwise unacceptable behavior. In recent history, this was the strategy of the Nazis with their propaganda, vilifying us as a prelude to their actual oppression of our people.

This, too, is the strategy of people who want to rationalize their mistreating others or their lack of helping others. They justify their cruelty or apathy by claiming that the other person has done much or serious wrong. Before accepting these negative reports it is incumbent upon those hearing them to clarify if they are really true. Ask yourself, "What might be motivating this person to relate this negative material? Perhaps he is fabricating the story or greatly exaggerating what happened in order to justify himself for something he did or would like to do. Even if the negative information is true, one must ascertain if the behavior it supposedly comes to condone is proper according to Torah principles. (Growth Through Torah)


This Week's Haftarah: Yishayahu 60:1-22.

This haftarah is the sixth of the series of seven haftarot of comfort, which are read from Tish'ah B'Ab to Rosh Hashanah. Yishayahu prophesizes that the nations will come to realize that Hashem rules the world. Hashem gives his guarantee that in the final redemption, Hashem will be an eternal light for us, and our days of mourning will be ended.


A villager named David went into the city one day to buy merchandise to sell in his hometown. He went to his regular supplier, Judah, picked out some merchandise, and asked if he could take it on credit. Judah checked his books and saw that David hadn't paid yet for the last three purchases he had made over the last six months. He told David, "I'm sorry, but you keep telling me that you will pay your old bills, and you still haven't paid me." David promised to send the money for all the bills as soon as he got home. "That's what you said the last time you were here," said Judah. "In fact, even if you do pay me everything you owe me, I wouldn't give you anything on credit again. Your word is obviously not worth very much." David pleaded with Judah, but Judah would not give in. Another man in the store overheard the whole discussion and said to David, "There's no way he will sell you again on credit, but I have a suggestion. Buy only what you need right now, and pay for it in cash, and also pay some of your balance. Next time buy a little more and do the same. Keep doing that and eventually Judah will give you another chance."

Less than two weeks from now, we will be praying to Hashem on Rosh Hashanah, and we will be asking Him to bless us with a good year filled with health, wealth and happiness. Hashem will then ask, "Why should I give these things to you?" We will answer, "So that we can do more misvot, learn more Torah and serve You better." "You said the same thing to Me last year and the year before that," Hashem will respond. "But you never changed your ways. You haven't paid up, and your 'credit' is no good."

In order to avoid this situation, we need to build up our credit in advance, before we make our requests. We should start with small changes like avoiding gossip and lies, or praying with a little more kavanah. Then, when Rosh Hashanah comes, Hashem will be more receptive to our requests. If not now, when? (Sha'arei Armon)

Answer to Pop Quiz: Bikkurim - the misvah of giving the first fruits to the Kohen.

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