Sunday, August 26, 2007

Parshas Ki Savo

וענית ואמרת (26:5)

וענית - לשון הרמת קול (רש"י)

A farmer is required to bring to the Beis HaMikdash the first ripened fruits of the seven species for which the land of Israel is praised. There, he presents them to the Kohen as a sign of appreciation to Hashem for giving him a successful harvest. He must also recite a declaration of gratitude for Hashem’s role in the miraculous course of our national history. Rashi writes that this proclamation must be made in a raised voice. Why does the Torah require the farmer to make this statement in a loud voice?

The following story will help us appreciate the answer to this question. Amuka, located in the north of Israel, is the burial place of the Talmudic sage Rebbi Yonason ben Uziel. Amuka is famous for its mystical ability to help those who are longing to get married to find their matches, and people travel there from around the world to pray for mates.

Although it is common for people to pray in Amuka with an intensity emanating from personal pain, somebody was once surprised to see a married woman praying there with great happiness. In responding to the onlooker’s curiosity about this, she taught a beautiful lesson.

“I had a very difficult time with dating. Somebody finally suggested that I travel to Amuka, where I poured my heart out in prayer. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to the man who is now my husband. I felt that if I came here to cry out from pain, it was only appropriate to return here to joyfully express my gratitude.”

The S’fas Emes explains that while every person’s livelihood is dependent upon Hashem’s decree, this correlation is often masked by natural events, making it appear that the person earned his income through his own creativity and hard work.

A farmer, on the other hand, has no difficulty recognizing that his financial situation precariously rests in the Hands of Heaven. As diligently as he works his land, he realizes that the success of each year’s crop depends upon the rains, which are beyond his control. After putting in his best physical efforts, he then pursues spiritual avenues, praying daily with great intensity for Hashem to bring the rains in the proper amounts and at the proper times.

When his petitions are answered and he is able to see the first “fruits” of his labors, it would be very easy for him to take credit for the successful harvest. The Torah requires him to bring the fruits to the Temple to remind him that his success is ultimately dependent on Hashem, and he must express the appropriate gratitude for Hashem’s kindness. One might assume, however, that it suffices to mutter a quick “thank you” under his breath to fulfill this obligation and to quickly return home.

The Torah therefore teaches that in expressing appreciation, it is insufficient to merely pay lip service. The feelings of gratitude must be conveyed with the identical fervor with which one initially prayed. Just as the farmer screamed out with his entire heart beseeching Hashem to bless him with a bountiful harvest, so too must he express his thanks with the identical raised voice.

We often cry out to Hashem from the depths of our hearts for a miraculous salvation which we need so desperately. When our prayers are answered and the deliverance comes, let us remember the lesson of the first-fruits and loudly call out our thanks with the same intensity with which we prayed in our time of trouble.


וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ד' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך (28:10)

תניא רבי אליעזר הגדול אומר אלו תפלין שבראש (מגילה טז:)

There was once a gathering in the house of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. As the assembled people waited for his arrival, one of the Chassidic attendees related a story involving a dispute between two Chassidic Rebbes. One of the Rebbes, exasperated at his inability to convince the other to agree to his position, remarked, “How can you possibly disagree with me when I own the tefillin of the great Baal Shem Tov?” The second Rebbe, unimpressed, retorted that this proved nothing, as the tefillin were missing a letter from one of Hashem’s Divine names, rendering them invalid. At that point, they went to check the tefillin and indeed found them to be invalid and missing a letter. The Chassidic storyteller concluded by passionately noting the degree of Divine Inspiration possessed by Chassidic Rebbes.

One of the non-Chassdic attendees sharply pointed out that the story was far from impressive, inasmuch as it also demonstrated that the illustrious founder of the movement had worn invalid tefillin. To this challenge, the Chassid replied that the tefillin were completely intact until the time of this episode, at which point one of the letters miraculously disappeared to fulfill the prediction of the Rebbe.

Not to be outdone, the cynical listener pointed out that if that was the case, the Rebbe had transgressed the prohibition (Rashi 12:4) against erasing one of Hashem’s names! A dispute then broke out regarding whether it is permitted to cause the erasing of Hashem’s name through miraculous means.

At this point, Rav Chaim entered the room and was asked for his opinion about the story. He replied that he doesn’t know if the story is accurate, but he does know with complete confidence that it is impossible to miraculously erase one of Hashem’s names. If the tefillin were found to be deficient, they had always been so. He was then asked how the second Rebbe could have possibly known that the tefillin were invalid prior to examining them. Rav Chaim replied that this ability is easily attained and that he himself already possessed it at the age of 6 or 7.

Rav Chaim explained that Moshe blessed the Jewish people that if they act properly and fulfill the commandments, all of the nations of the world will see that the name of Hashem is called upon them, and they will fear and revere them. The Gemora in Megillah (16b) understands the reference to the name of Hashem being called upon the Jews as referring to the tefillin, which contain an allusion to one of Hashem’s Divine names (see Tosefos Berachos 6a d.h. eilu), which are worn upon our heads. Therefore, any tefillin which don’t inspire reverence must clearly be invalid!


וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ד' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך (28:10)

תניא רבי אליעזר הגדול אומר אלו תפלין שבראש (מגילה טז:)

There is a legal dispute (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 31:2) regarding the wearing of tefillin on Chol HaMoed. Rav Yosef Karo writes that it is forbidden to wear tefillin on Chol HaMoed, while the Rema cites opinions that one is obligated to do so, adding that this was indeed the prevalent custom in his region. The Paneach Raza and the Maharshal bring a fascinating proof in support of the latter opinion.

Moshe blessed the Jewish people that if they act properly and fulfill the commandments, all of the nations of the world will see that the name of Hashem is called upon them, and they will fear and revere them. The Gemora in Megillah (16b) understands the reference to the name of Hashem being called upon us as referring to tefillin. Tosefos (Berachos 6a d.h. eilu) explains that the tefillin contain an allusion to שד-י, one of Hashem’s Divine names, with the ש represented by the letter ש that appears on the sides of the tefillin that is worn on one’s head.

The numerical value of ש is 300, which hints to the 300 days each year on which one is obligated to wear tefillin. Subtracting the 52 Shabbosos on which a person is exempt from tefillin leaves 313 days. One is also exempt from wearing tefillin on four days of Pesach, two days of Shavuos, two days of Rosh Hashana, one day of Yom Kippur, and four days of Sukkos, for a total of 13. If a person doesn’t wear tefillin on Chol HaMoed, he will be left with too few remaining days. In other words, only if one wears tefillin every day of the year except for Shabbos and Yom Tov will he be left with a total of exactly 300 days to correspond to the ש!


והשיבך ד' מצרים באניות בדרך אשר אמרתי לך לא תסיף עוד לראתה

והתמכרתם שם לאיביך לעבדים ולשפחות ואין קנה (28:68)

This verse concludes the fearsome curses and punishments threatened by Moshe for one who refuses to obey Hashem’s commandments. Why was there was a need to repeat the threats after they were already described in gruesome detail in Parshas Bechukosai? Further, why don’t the terrible curses described in our parsha conclude with words of consolation as do those in Parshas Bechukosai?

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh answers by noting that the curses detailed in Parshas Bechukosai are written in the plural, while those in our parsha are expressed in the singular. He suggests that the punishments mentioned previously are national in nature and will only transpire if the entire nation engages in inappropriate activities, and it is for this reason that they are written in the plural. Our parsha, on the other hand, is expressed in the singular, as it addresses individuals who sin, even at a time when the nation as a whole is behaving properly.

With this distinction, we now understand that the rebuke contained in Parshas Bechukosai ends with words of encouragement because it pertains to the entire nation. No matter how far they may stray, Klal Yisroel is guaranteed a continuation in the merit of Hashem’s covenant with our forefathers. Any individual within the community, however, isn’t as fortunate. As our parsha discusses the case of the individual who sins, it doesn’t conclude with words of consolation, as they have no such assurance.

The Alter of Kelm uses this concept to resolve an apparent contradiction regarding the nature of Rosh Hashana. On the one hand, it is legally considered a festive day, on which we dress in our finest clothes and eat enjoyable meals. On the other hand, the tone of the day is solemn. Hallel isn’t recited due to the fear which accompanies the knowledge that the books of the living and dead are open on this day.

The Alter explains that as a nation, we are confident in Hashem’s mercy and conduct ourselves with joy and optimism. At the same time, each individual is filled with dread and terror at the recognition that he has no such guarantee. The leaders of the Mussar movement write that nevertheless, a person who attaches himself to the community and is needed by others will share in their collective merits and will be inscribed for a year of health and happiness, something we should all enjoy in the year to come.


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) A farmer is required to bring bikkurim – the first ripened fruits of the seven species for which the land of Israel is praised – to the Temple. The Medrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4) that the world was created in the merit of three mitzvos, one which is bikkurim. Why is this mitzvah so great that it justified the creation of the entire universe? (Alshich HaKadosh, Daas Torah)

2) Why is a person specifically obligated to proclaim (26:12-15) that he has properly observed the laws governing the separation and distribution of the tithes, a requirement that we don’t find regarding any other mitzvah? (Abarbanel)

3) Moshe promised (28:2) that if the Jewish people properly observe the commandments, all of the blessings will catch and overtake them. This implies that the Jews will be running away from the blessings. Why would they flee from blessings? (Mayan Beis HaShoeivah, Taima D’Kra)

4) Hashem promises (28:13) that if the Jewish people properly perform the mitzvos, He will make them the head and not the tail. Why does the Torah use animal anatomy for the metaphor instead of blessing them to be “a head and not a foot,” which would seem to be more accurate? (Techeiles Mordechai, Tal’lei Oros)

5) Why is the section (28:1-14) detailing the blessings for those who observe the commandments so much shorter than that (28:15-68) describing the punishments and curses for those who disobey when Rashi writes (Shemos 20:5) that Hashem’s reward for those who listen to His commandments is 500 times greater than the punishment meted out to sinners? (S’fas Emes)

6) Which is a greater and more painful punishment: not to have an item one desires, or to possess it but be unable to use or benefit from it? (Beis Aharon 28:39)

7) The Torah states (28:47) that the terrible curses described throughout the parsha will come as a result of not serving Hashem with gladness. Why is this sin so severe? (Kotzker Rebbe quoted in Peninim Vol. 2, Chochmah U’Mussar 2:161, Shem Olam 2:11, Sichos Levi, Ohr Gedalyahu, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik quoted in Peninim Vol. 6, Taam V’Daas, Bod Kodesh)


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