Ki Tavo

A Student Publication of the Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshat Ki Tavo           15 Elul 5763              September 13, 2003              Vol.13 No.2

In This Issue:

Rabbi Hershel Solnica
Ariel Caplan
Avi Wollman
Food for Thought
Rabbi Howard Jachter

This week’s issue of Kol Torah
is sponsored by the Zharnest, Neuman,
and Bruckstein families

in commemoration of the Yahrtzeit of Walter Neuman,
שמעון גדליה בן שלום הכהן ע"ה.


Judaism: Active and Sensitive
by Rabbi Hershel Solnica

Parshat Ki Tavo begins with a detailed description of the Mitzvah of Bikurim.  The Mishnayot tell us how a farmer would tie a ribbon on the first sprouting crops.  When the crops were ready, he would bring a small amount to the Kohen and make a special presentation and pronouncement.  This ritual concludes with the sentence, “You shall be glad with all the goodness that Hashem has given you…”  (26:11).

Such a beautiful and joyous ritual for a simple, non-expensive presentation!  When one has to give Ma’aser, one-tenth of one’s crop, by contrast, there is no such ritual, just pay-up!

A reason for this difference might reflect the very essence of Torah.  The Torah wants us to participate in every Mitzvah.  Torah commandments are not spectator events.  Ma’aser is just paying a debt to a Levi or poor person.  Bikurim is the act of appreciation of all that one owns.  My father, zt”l, would always lamentthe fact that so many Jews die of heart-attacks.  His un-medical view 40 years ago was that when Jews substitute a good heart instead of being a Jew, there is an excessive load place on the heart.  “Do you keep Shabbat?”  “No, but I have a good Jewish heart.”  “Do you keep Kashrut?  Put on Tefillin?”  “No, but I wear a Star-of-David pin.”  This is an excessive amount of non-participatory Judaism.  Judaism requires an act of Bikurim, love, and a sensitive mind to realize that all that we have, all that we are, and everything that we can hope for is only granted by the grace of Hashem.


Staying Alive
By Ariel Caplan

The first Mitzvah in Parshat Ki Tavo is the Mitzvah of Bikurim.  The Torah says that when the Bikurim were brought to Yerushalayim to the Kohen, the person bringing them would make a declaration, which began, “Arami Oveid Avi Vayered Mitzraima,” “An Aramean sought to destroy my father and he went down to Egypt” (translation according to Onkelos and Rashi; also see Rashbam and Ibn Ezra).  The Midrash identifies the Aramean as Lavan, who throughout his time with Yaakov Avinu tried to destroy him and his family.  After Lavan, the Egyptians welcomed Yaakov, only to oppress his descendents.  However, there is a problem here: why is it that the Torah here does not mention over two other difficult episodes in Yaakov’s life - Eisav’s attempt to kill him, and the sale of Yosef?

Rav Moshe Dov Soloveitchik, citing the Brisker Rav, said that there were fundamental differences between those trials that were stated and those that were not. The troubles of Lavan and Egypt had ended many years before, but the problem of Eisav remains to this day, as the Roman exile in which we currently find ourselves will not end until the coming of Mashiach.  The sale of Yosef is not included due to the fact that Yaakov was the only one who suffered, as his sons and according to Rashi, even Yitzchak, knew the truth about Yosef’s disappearance (see Rashbam).

However, there is still another question that this does not explain: why is it that the Pasuk is phrased in such a way as to imply that there is a link between the episodes of Lavan and Egypt?

The Netziv suggests that we were originally meant to have been with Lavan for the duration of the 400 years of hardship promised to Avraham.  However, Hashem saw that “the Aramean would destroy” Yaakov and his descendants.  Therefore, Hashem sent the Jews to Egypt to complete the exile.

What about Lavan that made him so much worse than the Egyptians? After all, the Egyptians were an extremely immoral and corrupt nation, and they persecuted us to a level far beyond anything that Lavan did!

Rav A.L. Scheinbaum in his Sefer Peninim Al Hatorah suggests that since Lavan was a relative, he was much more dangerous.  A person tends to trust people whom he knows well.  Thus, when a close friend displays cruelty, it is much more devastating.  In addition, Lavan tried to destroy the Jews by absorbing them into his own family.  Thus, the danger of his evil was greater than the danger of Pharaoh.

An example of the danger of Lavan was the episode in which Lavan chased after Yaakov to try to kill him. After Hashem told Lavan in a dream not to harm Yaakov, he decided to make a pact instead.  Under Lavan’s ideal treaty, Yaakov’s and Lavan’s families would become as one, intermarrying with each other.  However, Yaakov realized the danger hidden in this and decided to propose instead a treaty wherein they merely agreed not to harm one another.  Thus, Yaakov prevented the incorporation of his own family into Lavan’s and the inevitable subsequent spiritual disintegration of Klal Yisrael.

In modern times,itermarriage and assimilation have become quite prevalent in the Jewish community, and untold numbers of Jews have been lost due to these problems.  It is specifically because American society is so tolerant and friendly to Jews that these issues have become so common.  Conversely, in times when Jews were oppressed by their gentile neighbors, these problems, generally speaking, almost did not exist.

The idea that Lavan and Egypt are two different means to the same end also explains why Lavan and Egypt are the only difficulties mentioned.   The entire point of mentioning these hardships is to talk about the physical and spiritual threats to the entire Jewish nation, not merely to describe Yaakov’s suffering.

However, there is a difficulty with this approach.  The Pesukim describing the recitation by Bikurim summarize the story of Egypt and end with a Pasuk saying that Hashem brought us to Eretz Yisrael.  The fact that no description of the story of Lavan is given implies that “Arami Oveid Avi” merely serves as a lead-in to the story of our enslavement in Egypt.  However, according to what we just stated, we would have to say that it was just as important an event as the other.

R’ Moshe Feinstein offered a different explanation for the link between the two stories.  Rashi (in the beginning of Parshat Vayishlach) states that Yaakov observed all the Mitzvot during his time with Lavan.  It can be assumed that had he not been able to do so, he would not have willingly brought his family to Egypt, knowing that they would have a more difficult spiritual challenge there.  Although Yosef was a ruler over Egypt and still kept the Mitzvot, Yaakov would not have wanted to expose his entire family to the spiritual dangers of Egypt just based on the experiences of one man.

Hashem wanted Yaakov to go to Egypt willingly, not to be forced to do so as Yosef was.  Thus, it was vital for Yaakov to spend time in Lavan’s house, and become assured of his ability to withstand Lavan’s efforts to destroy him and his family.  After he had survived there and had left intact, he would consent to go to Egypt.  Thus, the episode of Lavan did in fact lead to Yaakov’s going to Egypt.


Extend My Borders
By Avi Wollman

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah writes, "...And you will be only on top and you will not be on the bottom..." (Devarim 28:13). What does this mean? If one is on top, then one is not on the bottom!   Rav Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin quotes Divrei Hayamim (1:4:10) which records a Tefila by Ya’avetz. In this Tefila he says, “If you will bless me and extend my borders…” What is Ya’avetz saying? Why does he ask for both a blessing and this extension?

Rav Tzadok Hakohen from Lublin answers that many people are blessed tremendously but do not know how to handle their blessings. For example, a person might be blessed with wealth. However, many do not know how to handle this wealth and it is used for violence and other inappropriate uses. Since they do not know how to handle this blessing it is no longer a blessing for them; it is actually a curse! This is what Ya’avetz meant. “If you should bless me, please also expand my personality so I can handle the blessing.” This is what our Pasuk,  “You will only be on top and not on the bottom,” means to tell us. Hashem says that He will not only bless us but he will give us the understanding to be able to use His blessings correctly and enjoy them to their fullest.


Food for Thought
by Jerry Karp

1.  Why does the Tochacha in Ki Tavo mention that as a punishment for worshipping idols, Bnei Yisrael will be sent into exile and worship idols?  How can Bnei Yisrael do Teshuvah?

Why is health mentioned in the curse, but not in the blessing?

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