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Parshas Ki Savo - Vol. 8,
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 Chanukas HaTorah notes that the farmer bringing his first-fruits begins his review of national history by noting that an Aramean (Lavan) attempted to destroy my ancestor (Yaakov). Rashi explains that this was Lavan's intention when he set out to pursue the fleeing Yaakov, but Hashem was aware of his malicious idea and warned him in a dream against pursuing his plan (Bereishis 31:23-24). Although Lavan was thwarted from executing his evil scheme, Hashem punishes non-Jews not only for their wicked deeds, but also for their thoughts.
The Gemora in Berachos (31a) derives from Chana's prayer that one must pray quietly. The Gemora (Berachos 24b) explains that a person who prays loudly demonstrates a lack of faith in Hashem's ability to recognize the intentions of his heart and to hear him if he whispers. Included in the declaration made by the farmer is a public confirmation that Hashem knows not only the words that a person speaks, but even the thoughts that run through his mind. By proclaiming Hashem's knowledge of the unspoken, there is no longer any fear that the farmer will be viewed as questioning Hashem's ability to hear us when we speak quietly, and he may therefore express his gratitude in an appropriately loud voice!
In Parshas Ki Savo, Moshe told the Jewish people that when they entered the land of Israel, they should recommit themselves to mitzvah observance. In addition to writing the entire Torah on twelve large stones and bringing offerings, Moshe commanded them to ascend two large mountains in order to confirm their commitment and dedication to the Torah. Specifically, he said that the members of the tribes of Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissochar, Yosef, and Binyomin should stand on Mount Gerizim for the delivering of the blessings, while the tribes of Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftoli should assemble on Mount Eival for the pronouncement and acceptance of the curses.
The Gemora in Sotah (37a) raises a difficulty with this understanding of Moshe's instructions, as when the time came to actually carry them out, the verse in Yehoshua (8:33) states clearly that the Kohanim and Levites were down below with the Aron in the valley between the two mountains. How can this be reconciled with the straightforward reading of the verse in the Torah which requires the tribe of Levi to be up on Mount Gerizim, not down in the valley?
The Gemora presents three resolutions to this apparent contradiction, one of which is that those Kohanim and Levites who were fit for Divine service remained below in the valley with the Aron, while those who were not fit ascended the mountain in fulfillment of Moshe's instructions. In his commentary on the Gemora, Rashi understands the Gemora's criterion of "fit for service" as referring to those who were eligible to carry the Aron, namely those were between the ages of 30 and 50. The Maharsha, on the other hand, maintains that it refers to the descendants of Levi's son Kehas, who were placed in charge of the Aron (Bamidbar 4:1-20).
As there are no coincidences in the Torah, the commentators discuss the deeper significance of the division of the tribes in the manner prescribed by Moshe. In an article in Tradition magazine, Michael Broyde and Steven Weiner point out that from a purely mathematical perspective, there is a very straightforward and elegant explanation for splitting up the tribes in this way. There are a total of 462 different possible ways to divide twelve objects into two groups of six. Using the most recent census data in the Torah (Bamidbar 26:2-65) and the Gemora's aforementioned explanation of the division of the tribe of Levi, an examination of each of the 462 possible ways of splitting up the tribes reveals that the division ordained by Moshe is the most equitable of them all, meaning that this arrangement minimizes the difference in population between the two mountains better than any other possible division. This is the case according to the interpretations of the Gemora's expression "fit for service" given by both Rashi and the Maharsha. Moreover, according to the Maharsha, the number of Jews on Mount Gerizim was 307,929, and the number of Jews on Mount Eival was 307,930, a difference of only one.
Moshe blessed the Jewish people that if they act properly and observe the commandments, 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 concept of the name of Hashem being called upon them as referring to the tefillin, which contain an allusion to one of Hashem's Divine names (Tosefos Berachos 6a), which are worn in our heads. Why does the Gemora refer to tefillin as being in our heads instead of the seemingly more accurate description of being on our heads?
The Vilna Gaon was once lodging at an inn when he heard loud cries and screams for help coming from the innkeeper's room. Although the Gaon was in the middle of the morning prayers, he quickly ran to the aid of a fellow Jew. He threw open the innkeeper's door and discovered a non-Jew mercilessly beating him. The attacker looked up at the door, and upon seeing the Gaon wearing his tallis and tefillin, was overcome with terror and promptly fainted.
After recovering from the shock of the incident, the innkeeper expressed his tremendous gratitude to the Vilna Gaon for coming to his rescue. He added that while he was certainly appreciative, he was also curious about the Gaon's "secret weapon" which had inspired such fear in the heart of his attacker. The Gaon replied by citing the aforementioned Gemora and explained that the sight of him adorned in his tefillin had caused the non-Jew to faint. The innkeeper respectfully asked for clarification, as he himself had been wearing his tallis and tefillin prior to the attack, but they had clearly proven ineffective.
The Vilna Gaon pointed out that the Gemora uses a peculiar expression. It doesn't understand the verse as referring to the tefillin which are on one's head but rather to the tefillin which are in one's head. He explained that merely placing the tefillin on one's body is insufficient. A person must contemplate the message of the portions contained therein until they are internalized. While the innkeeper had not yet done so, the Gaon was clearly on such a level. When the attacker perceived his spiritual loftiness, he was overcome with terror to the point of fainting - exactly as promised by the Gemora.
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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)
2) The Mishnah (Sotah 32a) refers to the statement (26:12-15) which a person makes to proclaim that he has properly observed the laws governing the separation and distribution of the tithes as viduy maaser - the "confession" of the tithes. Why is it given this name when it makes no reference to sin and represents a declaration that the farmer has acted properly? (Seforno; Tosefos Yom Tov, Mishnah Rishonah, and Tosefos Anshei Shem Maaser Sheini 5:10; Minchas Chinuch 607)
3) Rashi writes (28:6) that if a person properly performs the mitzvos, his departure from the world will be without sin just as was his entrance to the world. How can the idea that a person is born clean from sin be reconciled with the kabbalistic concept of gilgulim (reincarnation), which teaches that a person's soul is sent back to the earth to rectify whatever misdeeds it performed in its previous incarnation? (Rashash Bava Metzia 107a, Derech Sicha, Taam V'Daas)
4) The Torah teaches (28:47) that the terrible curses described throughout the parsha will come as a result of not serving Hashem with gladness. If this is indeed such a terrible sin, why is there no commandment to do so? (Yad Av)
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