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Parshas Ki Savo - Vol. 9,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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 Beis HaMikdash. There he presents them to a Kohen as a sign of gratitude to Hashem for giving him a successful harvest. He then recites a declaration of appreciation for Hashem's role in Jewish history. Rashi writes that this proclamation is 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 find their matches, and people travel there from around the world to pray for a spouse.
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 her response 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 every person's livelihood is dependent upon Hashem's decree. Many times, this correlation is masked by events which make it appear that the person earned his income through his own creativity and perspiration. The farmer, on the other hand, has no difficulty recognizing that his financial situation is beyond his control and precariously rests in Hashem's hands. As diligently as he plows and plants his land, he realizes that the success of each year's crop depends upon the frequency and intensity of the rains, factors completely beyond his control. After putting in his own hard work, he prays fervently that the rains should come in the proper amounts and at the proper times.
When the farmer's prayers are answered and he sees the first "fruits" of his labors, it would be easy for him to take credit for the successful harvest. The Torah requires him to bring his first fruits to the Temple as a reminder that his success comes from Hashem, and he must express the appropriate gratitude for His kindness. One might incorrectly assume that mumbling a quick "thank you" under his breath suffices to fulfill this obligation. The Torah therefore teaches that in expressing appreciation, lip service is insufficient. The feelings of gratitude must be conveyed with the identical intensity 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.
So many times we cry out to Hashem from the depths of our hearts for a desperately-needed salvation - to bear children, to find our spouse, to recover from illness, or for a source of livelihood. When our prayers are answered and the salvation 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.
In 2006, Rav Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, the Chief Rabbi of Migdal HaEmek in northern Israel, was visited by Moti Dotan, the head of the Lower Galilee regional council. Moti Datan told him that he had recently been in Germany to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a twin-city arrangement between the regional council and the district of Hanover. During his time there, a member of the Hanover district council approached him and told him that his elderly father, Werner Herzig, had died a few weeks previously. When his father was on his deathbed, he confessed to his son that he had played an active role in the Holocaust.
Specifically, he told his son that he was an officer in the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, during World War 2, and he gave him his military ID card, which was stored in a small case made out of parchment. As for the reason that the case was made from this unusual material, the father explained that when he was helping to burn a synagogue on the Russian front, he discovered a Torah scroll written on parchment. He decided to cut out a small section of the parchment in order to fashion from it a cover for his ID card. Many years later, the father found out that the scroll from which he had cut the parchment is considered valuable and holy to the Jewish people, so just before his death, he instructed his son to give it to a Jew so that it could be brought to a Rabbi in Israel, who would know what to do with it. The son gave Moti Dotan the case, and when he returned to Israel, he brought it to Rav Grossman. When Rav Grossman examined the section of parchment that had been desecrated and transformed into a wallet, he was stunned and began to cry.
The verses on the parchment were from Parshas Ki Savo, and they read (Devorim 28:57-62): "In the siege and distress that your enemy will distress you in your cities; if you will not be careful to perform all the words of this Torah that are written in this Book, to fear this honored and awesome Name: Hashem your G-d, then Hashem will make extraordinary your blows and the blows of your offspring - great and faithful blows, and evil and faithful illnesses. He will bring back upon you all the sufferings of Egypt, of which you were terrified, and they will cleave to you. Even any illness and any blow that is not written in this Book of the Torah, Hashem will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. You will be left few in number, instead of having been like the stars of heaven in abundance, for you will not have hearkened to the voice of Hashem, your G-d."
Out of all of the verses and sections in the Torah from which the case could have been made, it was specifically fashioned from the harsh and threatening verses of rebuke in Parshas Ki Savo. Rav Grossman commented that this episode reminded him of a similar story which is recorded in Sefer Melochim (2:22). Yoshiyahu became king at the age of 8 after his father was assassinated; although his father Amon and grandfather Menashe were wicked kings who had done tried their utmost to eliminate every vestige of religion from the Jewish people, Yoshiyahu was a righteous king and did not follow in their footsteps. He repaired the Temple and restored its functioning, and in the eighteenth year of his reign, the Kohen Gadol Chilkiyahu (the father of the prophet Yirmiyahu) discovered a Sefer Torah which had been hidden in the Beis HaMikdash so that Yoshiyahu's predecessors could not burn it, as they did to the other Torah scrolls.
Chilkiyahu gave the Torah scroll to Yoshiyahu's royal scribe, Shafan ben Atzalya, who read it aloud to the king from the place to which it had been rolled when it was hidden away. When Yoshiyahu heard the words of the Torah, he was so shaken that he tore his garments in mourning. What did the scribe read that caused the king to react in this manner? Rashi explains that he read the verse in the rebuke in Parshas Ki Savo which states (28:36), "Hashem will carry both you and your king whom you will set up over yourself to a nation you never knew - neither you nor your forefathers - and there you will work for the gods of others - of wood and of stone." Yoshiyahu interpreted this as a Divine message and cried out, "It is incumbent upon us to uphold the Torah" (Yerushalmi Sotah 5:4), and he immediately instituted a national movement to repent and return to Hashem.
Rav Grossman connected the two incidents, as each case was a clear example of hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence) exhorting people to repent their sins. Taking this one step further, Rabbi Yissocher Frand suggests that even without Torah scrolls threatening us with unimaginable punishments, the events unfolding around us daily lead to the inescapable conclusion that our only hope to be saved from the geopolitical and socioeconomic chaos that surrounds us is to wholeheartedly return to Hashem.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The section (26:1-11) detailing the laws governing bikkurim contains every letter in the Hebrew alphabet except for one. Which letter is missing, and why? (Baal HaTurim 26:4)
2) After the Jewish people initially accepted the Torah while standing near Mount Sinai, why were they required to reaccept it by standing on top of (27:11-26) Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival? (Peninim Vol. 6)
3) Moshe reminded (29:4) the people of the miracle that throughout their 40-year sojourn in the desert, "your garments (plural) didn't wear out from on you, and your shoe (singular) didn't wear out from on your foot." Why did he change from the plural to the singular? (Taima D'Kra)
4) Rashi writes (29:12) that Moshe threatened the Jewish people with a total of 98 different curses if they fail to observe the commandments. Why did he specifically mention this number of punishments? (Tosefos Rid, Yad Av)
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