In This Issue:
Rabbi Yosef Adler, Rosh HaYeshiva
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
As Am Yisrael prepares to enter Eretz Yisrael, Moshe informs them that when they will reach Har Gerizim and Har Eival, a new covenant will be established between them and HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Six tribes would ascend Har Gerizim to hear the Berachot, and the other six would receive the Kelalot upon Har Eival. The Torah records only the Kelalot. Rashi, citing the Gemara (Sotah 36b), clarifies that the Leviim recited both the Berachot (blessings) and the Kelalot (Curses) as they faced Har Gerizim and Har Eival, respectively. There are eleven specific Aveirot mentioned which we are to avoid; amongst them are the Issurim to ridicule one's mother and father, to take a bribe, and to strike a friend. The issue of why specifically these eleven commandments were selected is subject to much discussion. However, the concluding Pasuk of the Kelalot reads (Devarim 27:26), "Arur Asher Lo Yakim Et Divrei HaTorah HaZot Laasot Otam, VeAmar Kol HaAm Amen," "'Cursed is he who does not Yakim the words of this Torah and perform them,' and the whole nation said Amen."
Rashi suggests that this broad, sweeping phrase is designed to remind everyone to observe the remaining 602 Mitzvot of the Torah. One who observes any Mitzvah will be blessed and one who violates any transgression will be cursed. “Yakim,” to Rashi, is then translated as "to observe". Ramban, however, in his second explanation of the Pasuk, cites a Yerushalmi in Sotah indicating that the word Yakim must be translated as "to uplift" and that this serves as a reference to our practice that after Keriat HaTorah (or before Keriah for Eidot HaMizrach), one should pick up the Torah and display it to all the people in the shul.
I interpret Ramban in the following manner. The Torah is effectively studied between a Rebbe and his student. There are teachers who are great scholars and orators and enjoy the ability to transmit the depths of the Torah to their students. But ultimately, a student learns his Rebbe's Torah, as he understands it. The real challenge of a teacher is to enable his student to reach the appropriate conclusion on his or her own, by having the teacher guide the student in the right direction. Through proper guidance, the student identifies the difficulty with the text of the Gemara or Rishonim that he or she learns, and then proceeds to suggest a resolution. The Torah then becomes his or her own, in fulfillment of the request we make thrice daily, "VeTain Chelkeinu BeToratecha" “and place our portion in your Torah.” The student is then lifting the Torah personally, and thereby fulfilling, the Pasuk“Baruch Asher Yakim Et Divrei HaTorah HaZot.”
The beginning of this week’s Parashah discusses Mikra Bikurim, the declaration recited by a farmer when he brought his first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash. The first statement recited is “Arami Oveid Avi VaYeired Mitzrayma,” “An Aramean (Lavan) would have destroyed my father (Yaakov), and he descended to Egypt” (Devarim 26:5). Rav Auerbach asks, “Why is the incident with Lavan specifically pointed out as a situation in which Hashem had to save our father? Didn’t Hashem have to save Yaakov from Eisav too? Why not mention Eisav in Mikra Bikurim?” He answers that the difference between Eisav and Lavan was that Eisav’s hatred for Yaakov had a basis. Eisav felt that Yaakov had cheated him out of his birthright and therefore harbored animosity towards Yaakov. Lavan, on the other hand, hated Yaakov with no basis for his hatred. Therefore, as there was no way to divest himself of Lavan’s hatred, Hashem had to intervene and save Yaakov.
Another question arises in connection with this statement: what is the connection between Lavan and our going down to Mitzrayim? Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank answers, based on the Gemara (Shabbat 10b), that Bnei Yisrael went down to Egypt because of the jealousy felt by Yosef’s brothers over the favoritism Yaakov showed Yosef. The Gemara explains that Yaakov favored Yosef because he felt that Yosef was his firstborn, since he was the firstborn son of his favorite wife, Rachel. In fact, had Lavan not tricked Yaakov, Yosef would have been the Bechor and the brothers would not have been jealous of Yosef because he would have rightfully received the favoritism of Yaakov. Therefore, Lavan really did cause Yaakov and his family to go down to Mitzrayim, which led to 210 years of hard labor.
We should learn from this that any kind of hatred, especially baseless hatred, is very bad and can have disastrous ramifications. As we approach the Yamim Noraim this is one area in which we can try to improve in order that we be inscribed in the Sefer HaChayim.
Parashat Ki Tavo is teeming with topics begging to be expounded, such as the Halachot of Bikkurim, Vidui Maaser, and the lengthy Tochachah. Interestingly enough, the Sefat Emet overlooks other topics in his opening to the Parashah in favor of the following Pasuk (Devarim 26:16) "HaYom HaZeh Hashem Elokecha Mitzavicha LaAsot Et HaChukim HaEileh," "Today, Hashem your God commands you to do these statutes [Bikkurim].” The Sefat Emet proceeds to quote a related Midrash Tanchuma. Although the Midrash starts by quoting this Pasuk, it immediately veers off on a seemingly unrelated tangent. The Midrash quotes a Pasuk in Tehilim (95:6), which states, "Bou Nishtachaveh VeNichrahah" "Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow.” The Midrash then explains that Moshe Rabeinu saw that with the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, Bikurim and Vidui Maaser would come to an end, and therefore, Moshe established the foundation for Tefillah to compensate for the loss of these Mitzvot.
Although this may be a nice insight into understanding Tefillah, the Midrash’s statement seems misplaced. The Sefat Emet recognizes the potential for confusion caused by the placement of this Midrash and so immediately brings in reinforcements to explain this Midrash. Quoting his grandfather, the Chidushei HaRim, the Sefat Emet notes the resemblance between Tefillah and Bikurim. The Mitzvah of Bikurim entails giving the first ripened fruits to the Kohein, LeSheim Hashem (in the name of Hashem). These first fruits are eagerly anticipated by the farmer because they are the first tangible gain he receives for the difficult labor farming entails. But instead of reveling in the fruit of his labor, the farmer is forced to give his fruits away to Hashem, surely a painful loss. By giving away these first fruits, the first of his produce, the farmer makes a statement that all fruits are from Hashem, thereby furthering his appreciation and relationship with Hashem.
Tefillah also entails renouncing one’s ownership over the “Reishit,” or in this case, the first part of the day, which could conceivably be spent sleeping or partaking in some other activity, but is instead dedicated to Tefillah and one’s relationship with Hashem. By giving up the Reishit of one’s day, one is dedicating the activities of the beginning of that day to Hashem, just as one who gives up the Reishit of his fruits is dedicating his fruits LiSheim Hashem.
However, there is a serious flaw with this interpretation. Shacharit can be compared to Bikurim, but there are two other Tefillot in the day aside from Shacharit. How can the Bikurim - Tefillah analogy apply to Mincha and Maariv?
Before suggesting an answer to this question, we must first explore one of the Maharal’s statements, which points out that the Zeman (time) for Mincha occurs in the middle of the day when people are often most preoccupied with other work. Likewise, Zeman Maariv arrives when most have just finished their work and are tempted by relaxation from a hard day of work. Therefore, the analogy between Bikkurim and Tefillah still applies. Although one may not be giving up the Reishit of his day, like Shachrit, he is still making sacrifices to develop his connection with Hashem.
As we all know, Shavuot is often referred to as Chag HaBikkurim, the Holiday of the First Fruit. One may be tempted to ask why the day that commemorates our spiritual birth, the day we got the Torah, is referred to in such mortal and seemingly shallow terms. The Holiday of the First Fruit harvest hardly seems like an appropriate name. However, through the Midrash and the Sefat Emet’s explanation of Bikkurim we can gain a greater understanding of why Shavuot may be called by this name. Bikkurim signifies giving up physical pleasures, not just ones with which we were lucky enough to be blessed, but also those that involved arduous labor and farming, in order to gain a closer relationship with Hashem. The Torah is our link to Hashem, the unique gift given to us that no other nation has and the crown of royalty that shows we are the Children of the Melech Malchei HaMelachim (King of Kings). Additionally, the Midrash tells us that Hashem went to all the nations of the world offering them the Torah before finally offering it to Bnei Yisrael. The nations refused and their reasons boiled down to a refusal to give up pleasures they had in this world, be it murder, theft, etc. Only Bnei Yisrael were willing to sacrifice the physical pleasures the Torah restricts to gain a closer relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Therefore, what better way is there to commemorate the day we received this link to Hashem than by naming it after an act in which we give up great pleasure to further connect to Hashem.
However, today there are no Bikkurim. Therefore, the Sefat Emet and the Midrash go into a lengthy discussion regarding Bikkurim’s substitute, Tefillah. If Bikkurim and its replacement, Tefillah, are so important that we commemorate the most important day in the history of creation by its name, surely we should have a great appreciation for it. This message especially holds true now, immediately preceeding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many people feel that the long Tefilot of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are painful and require sacrificing comfort and other pleasures to partake in. them. Despite the negative tone to this idea, it is a true feeling that we all need to understand. These Tefilot are sacrifices, and they do take a lot out of a person; that is their purpose. We are showing that we are willing to sacrifice everything, even time itself, which the Gemara says is invaluable because it can never be paid back, just to gain closure with Hashem. Hopefully, we can all internalize this idea and utilize it to attain closeness with Hashem on these upcoming Yamim Tovim, and through this closeness we can achieve a true Teshuva and be written in the Sefer HaChayim Tovim.
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