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Parshas Ki Savo - Vol. 11, Issue 50
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 Temple in Jerusalem, where he presents them to a Kohen as an expression of hakaras hatov - gratitude to Hashem for giving him a successful harvest. The Medrash Tanchuma (1) teaches that Moshe prophetically saw that the Bais HaMikdash would one day be destroyed, and it would no longer be possible to perform the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim there. As a partial substitute for this mitzvah, Moshe enacted that the Jewish people should instead pray three times daily. This Medrash is difficult to understand. What is the connection between bikkurim and prayer, two mitzvos that at first glance appear to be completely unrelated?
In his sefer Minchas Asher, Rav Asher Weiss points out that the concept of prostrating oneself appears several times in the Torah. When Yaakov encountered Eisav in Parshas Vayishlach, Yaakov, his wives, and his children attempted to pacify the irate Eisav by bowing down to him in a display of submission (Bereishis 33:1-7), just as somebody who meets the King or Queen in many cultures is required to bow down as an acknowledgment of their power and dominion.
The Torah also records (Bereishis 24:52) that when Eliezer succeeded in finding Rivkah as a wife for Yitzchok, he prostrated himself on the ground to Hashem. Similarly, when the Jewish people in Egypt heard from Moshe and Aharon that they would soon be redeemed from their bitter enslavement, they bowed down and prostrated themselves (Shemos 4:31). In these two cases, the bowing was not an expression of subservience, but rather of appreciation to Hashem.
Rav Weiss notes that in Shemoneh Esrei, there are two blessings in which we are required to bow: the first blessing of Magen Avrohom, and the penultimate blessing known as Modim. Our bowing in these two blessings represents the two different types of prostration. As we begin to address Hashem in the first blessing, we immediately bow as a sign of submission. Toward the end of our prayers, we bow again in the blessing of Modim as an expression of thanksgiving for all of the good that Hashem continuously does for us.
Applying this dichotomy to the mitzvah of bikkurim, when the Torah commands the farmer to bring his first-fruits to the Temple and prostrate himself, to which type of bowing is it referring - submissiveness or gratitude? Tosefos (Sukkah 47b) writes that while the Kohen waved the bikkurim, the farmer bowed down as a part of the ceremony. Since showing hakaras hatov is one of the central themes of the mitzvah of bikkurim (Chinuch 606), this bowing down is an expression of appreciation.
However, the Vilna Gaon disagrees and writes in Aderes Eliyahu that the farmer's prostration is not an integral component of the bikkurim ceremony, but rather it is due to a separate law which requires a person to bow down before leaving the Bais HaMikdash and departing from the presence of the Shechinah. According to this explanation, the bowing down is a demonstration of subservience.
The Gemora teaches (Eiruvin 13b) that whenever there are legitimate disputing opinions, both are considered valid expressions of Hashem's will. Accordingly, the farmer's prostration when performing the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim to the Temple contains within it aspects of both submission and thanksgiving to Hashem.
With this introduction, Rav Weiss explains that the Medrash teaches that when Moshe prophetically saw that the ability to perform the mitzvah of bikkurim would be lost when the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed, he was disturbed that we would no longer be able to bow down to Hashem to express our submission and gratitude to Him. Therefore, Moshe enacted that we should instead use the medium of praying Shemoneh Esrei thrice daily as a replacement, since it also offers us the opportunity to bow at the beginning to humbly acknowledge Hashem as our King, and to bow near the end to show our thanks for all that He does for us constantly.
At the end of Parshas Ki Savo, after delivering frightening threats of terrible punishments that would befall the Jewish people if they did not observe the Torah's laws, Moshe told them that even after all of the miracles they had seen and experienced, Hashem had not given them a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to listen until that day. What suddenly changed at that time? Rashi explains that on that day, Moshe gave a Sefer Torah to the tribe of Levi (31:9), and the other tribes came to him to complain that they had also stood at Har Sinai and received the Torah, and they were worried that perhaps one day in the future, the Levites would claim that Hashem gave the Torah to them and not to the other tribes.
Moshe was pleased by their argument and informed them that on that day, they had become a nation and received the ability to think, see, and hear properly. Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand what was so unique about that particular day that enabled the people to become so elevated and to reach levels that they were unable to attain when they witnessed miracles such as the splitting of the Yam Suf and the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai.
The Chasam Sofer posits that what changed on that day was that the Jewish people understood that Moshe was saying goodbye and that shortly he would no longer be with them. He explains that paradoxically, it is precisely at the time when a person loses his teacher and is left on his own that he is able to grow and reach new heights of spiritual accomplishment. The Chasam Sofer writes that this is a well-documented phenomenon, in which great leaders and Rabbis specifically reached spiritual greatness only after parting from their primary teachers. For example, Yitzchok did not receive his first prophecy (Bereishis 26:1-5) until after his father and teacher Avrohom had died, and Yaakov did not reach the level of prophecy until after he had left the house of his father Yitzchok (Bereishis 28:10-17).
For this reason, although the Jewish people saw constant miracles and experienced tremendous spiritual enlightenment during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness under Moshe's leadership, they also remained reliant upon him, and it was only at the time that they prepared to part from him that they were able to reach a new, independent level of spiritual insight.
Along these lines, Dovid writes in Tehillim (34:12) Lechu vanim shim'u li yiras Hashem alamedchem - Go, my sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of Hashem. Several commentators point out that it would seemingly be more appropriate to say bo'u vanim - Come, my sons - instead of lechu vanim - Go, my sons. Rav Yisroel Reisman explains that when a person is living in close proximity to his teacher or his father, he receives frequent spiritual lifts and has an easier time passing tests. The true challenge begins after lechu vanim, when he leaves his support structure behind and goes off on his own, which presents him with greater opportunities for independent growth and accomplishment.
Rabbi Reisman compares this to a parent teaching a child to walk. Initially, the child needs the parent's assistance as he learns this new skill, but ultimately, it is only when the parent lets go and allows the child to fall that he truly learns to walk on his own. He adds that when the time inevitably comes for a person to leave the rarefied yeshiva or seminary environment in which he was constantly surrounded by inspiring Rebbeim and teachers encouraging him to grow, it can feel quite depressing. No matter how hard a person tries to replicate that sublime atmosphere, it will never feel quite the same, and his Torah learning and prayer will feel like they pale in comparison. However, we should take comfort in the recognition that it is specifically in this new setting that we can reach new, previously unattainable heights, as we learn to walk on our own.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) 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 but rather represents a declaration that the person has acted properly? (Seforno; Tosefos Yom Tov, Mishnah Rishonah, and Tosefos Anshei Shem Maaser Sheini 5:10; Minchas Chinuch 607, Shiras Dovid, K'Motzei Shalal Rav)
2) Each of the curses which were to be read at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival is written in the present tense except for the curse (27:15) against one who will make a graven image, which is written in the future tense. Why is this curse different? (Niflaos Chadashos, K'Motzei Shalal Rav)
3) Rashi explains (28:6) one of the blessings to mean 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)
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