Vol. 6 No. 45
First-Fruits to the First of All Firsts
Parshas Ki Sovo
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)
"Honour Hashem from your wealth and from the first of all your produce, and your storehouses will be filled with plenty, and the wine in your wine-presses will overflow" (Mishlei 3:9-10).
Shlomoh ha'Melech is warning us here about the characteristic of trust, to teach us to give of our wealth in honour of G-d, and to give generously to the poor. And when we give, we should not give reluctantly, but with the full faith that, as a result of our giving, Hashem will bless all our endeavours, as opposed to feeling that what one gives is lost. For so Shlomoh said elsewhere in Mishlei "Someone who gives to the poor does not lose".
And he also wrote "The treasures of the rosho (which he accumulated through theft and other dishonest means) will be of no use to him, whereas (what one gives away for) tzedokoh saves from death". That is why Chazal have said that to give away one's money for tzedokoh preserves it, like salt preserves food. This being the case, a person should willingly spend his money in order to perform mitzvos or to acquire good character-traits, and particularly in the form of tzedokoh, because when one gives tzedokoh to a poor man, he is giving it to G-d. And when he gives something to G-d, he is merely giving Him something that is already His, as Dovid ha'Melech writes in Divrei Hayamim (29:14).
That explains why Shlomoh wrote here "Honour Hashem from your wealth", the word wealth ("hon") incorporating anything of value that one tends to store.
These two pesukim, it seems, are referring to the concession (given by Mal'achi in 3:10) to test G-d with regard to tzedokoh - to "honour Hashem from our wealth" in order that "your storehouses will be filled with plenty," and "from the first of all your produce" so that "the wine in your wine-press will overflow" - indeed we find wine referred to as produce in Ki Seitzei (22:9). And even though the Torah explicitly forbids testing G-d (that performing a mitzvah in order to succeed financially is prohibited - see Devorim 6:16), the Gemoro in Ta'anis (9a) explains that this prohibition does not pertain to tzedokoh. And we know that Shlomoh ha'Melech is referring to testing G-d (and not just about the conditions through which one acquires wealth), because then it would have written "If you honour Hashem from your wealth, then your storehouses will be filled". Consequently, Shlomoh has provided us here with another source for the concession to test Hashem in the areas of tzedokoh and Ma'asros.
The Medrash interprets the posuk differently: "Honour Hashem" the Medrash explains "with whatever Hashem benefits (or graces) you with". When you have something that others do not, such as a good voice, show your appreciation to Hashem by using it in His honour, to sing and to daven before Him (as the Torah hints in Tetzaveh (28:35) "And his voice shall be heard when he comes to the Kodesh"). This is on condition that he uses his voice to enhance Hashem's honour, and not his own - because the posuk (in Shir Hashirim) writes about someone who sings in honour of Hashem "Let Me hear your voice", whereas about those who sing to boost their own ego, Yirmiyah writes "Her voice came before Me, therefore I hated her".
Similarly, if he is a scribe, then he should write books in honour of Hashem, and if he succeeds in writing a Seifer-Torah, then so much the better - for Chazal have said in Menochos, that if someone writes a Seifer-Torah, it is as if he received it at Har Sinai.
And if he has a steady hand and is able to perform the Bris-milah, then he should take up doing so regularly, to perform the mitzvah on which thirteen covenants were established. And this is what a person should do in any area in which he excels; since all actions that one performs in this manner glorify those who perform them.
"And from the first of all your produce" - Yisroel are called "first " (see Yirmiyah 2:3), and it is therefore appropriate for them to acknowledge the G-d who is 'the First of all firsts', and to honour Him with the first of all their produce. Indeed, this is why the Torah commands them to fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim, to take their first-fruit to the place that is called 'first' (for the entire world was formed from it), as Dovid ha'Melech wrote in Tehilim (50:2), and to give to the Kohen, who is the first of Hashem's servants, the first of all the fruits of the ground.
Adapted from the Likutim Yekorim
The Blessing Will Come
"And all these blessings will come upon you and overtake you" (20:2). You will not need to spend much time and effort in your business ventures in order to succeed. The blessing will come your way automatically, whilst you sit and study Torah and pursue your spiritual needs. It is as the Rambam writes, all the material blessings of the Torah are only a means towards fulfilling the mitzvos.
That is why the Torah writes here "when you will listen to the voice of Hashem your G-d". If the purpose of the blessings is to enable you to pursue Torah and mitzvos with a clear mind, then He will certainly not allow them to detract from those holy pursuits in order to obtain them.
Blessed Be the Fruit ...
"Blessed be the fruit of your stomach (your children) ... Blessed be your basket (your fruit - see Rashi) and your dough ... " (28:4-5).
Later (in posuk 17-18), when it comes to the curses, the Torah reverses the order: first "Cursed be your basket and your dough” and then “Cursed be the fruit of your stomach..."
By the blessings, the Torah mentions the most important first (perhaps to say that as you bear more children, you will receive more produce to feed them). But by the curses, it mentions the produce before the children because of the principle that G-d never strikes the person first (like we find by tzora'as - where He struck first the house, then the clothes and only then, the person).
"And you will be only on top and never at the bottom" (28:13).
Someone who lives under the influence of the 'Mazel' is not constant; he is bound to undergo change as his Mazal inevitably changes. It is only when we live in Eretz Yisroel (where we come under the direct influence of G-d and observe His Torah and mitzvos) that is is possible to promise that we will consistently be on top, that that situation is as constant as our decision to keep Torah and mitzvos properly.
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Joining 'Em Won't Help
"And you will serve there other gods, wood and stone" (28:36). Just in case you have any illusions that that is what will make you popular in the eyes of the other nations, the Torah continues "And you will be a source of amazement, a parable and the talk of the town".
This is the explanation of the Ibn Ezra. According to Targum Unklus and others, the Torah does not mean that we will serve idols in golus (that is something which lies within our own choice, to do or not to do). What the Torah means is that we will serve idolaters or pay them taxes.
Up Up, Down Down
"The stranger who is in your midst will rise higher and higher, whilst you will descend lower and lower" (28:43).
The Torah warns us to love the stranger and to assist him, precisely because he is alone, and it is natural for him to have the underhand (indeed, the Torah warns us to remember that we too, were once strangers in Egypt, and to recall how badly we were treated). So, to begin with, it is unnatural for a stranger to gain the upper-hand. But that he should continue to rise higher and higher whilst we go down lower and lower, without any change in the situation (as long as we do not do teshuvah) goes against all the laws of nature (as we explained earlier - in view of the natural tendency of the Mazel to change).
Gradual Rise, Gradual Fall
The Likutei Yekorim explains that, not only is the Torah telling us here that the stranger will reach the top and we, the bottom, but that this will happen in stages. Because someone who gets to the top too quickly is subject to the ayin ho'ra (the evil eye), which will soon bring about his downfall, whereas someone who falls straight to the bottom evokes sympathy. Therefore, the Torah informs us that the stranger will reach the top, but gradually, so that he will not suffer from the ayin ho'ra, and we will decline gradually until we reach the bottom, in a way that we will not receive the sympathy from others that a person who suffers total ruin can expect.
Although 'Emes ve'Yatziv' is the brochoh after the Shema, it does not begin with the words 'Boruch Atto Hashem', in the way that a brochoh of this nature should. That is because it is a 'brochoh ha's'muchah la'chaverta' - like all the brochos that follow the first brochoh of the Amidah, which do not begin with 'Boruch Atto Hashem', because 'Boruch Atto Hashem' of the opening brochoh of the Amidah covers them all. So too, is it with the brochos of the Shema. The first brochoh (that of 'ha'Meir lo'Oretz' begins with 'Boruch Atto Hashem', whereas the subsequent brochos, Ahavoh Rabbo and Emes ve'Yatziv, are both considered 's'muchos la'chaverto' - nor is the Shema considered an interruption. Consequently, neither of them begins with a brochoh.
The Eitz Yosef writes that the word 'emes' (which is written in Yirmiyah after the words 'va'Hashem Elokim'), is the seal of Hashem, which explains why it appears in the last letters of both the three opening words and the three final words of the creation ("Bereishis boro Elokim" and "boro Elokim la'asos" respectively). He also explains how the 'aleph' is the first letter of the aleph beis, the 'tov' the last one, whilst the 'mem' is the middle letter, signifying that Hashem always was, still is, and always will exist (as we actually mention in the brochoh of 'Emes ve'yatziv').
The fifteen 'vovim' from 've'yatziv' until 've'yofeh' make 90, the equivalent of 'omein' (one may ignore the discrepancy of one, since in the rules of gematriya, one is of no consequence), and corresponds to the first letters of 'Keil Melech Ne'emon' ("Omein'), which the individual says when he reads the Shema without a minyan. Some even maintain that when there is no minyan, having this in mind when saying the fifteen ‘vavin’ is an alternative to saying 'Keil Melech Ne'emon'.
The Iyun Tefillah quotes the Sidur 'Sha'ar ho"Rachamim', who explains that each of the sixteen descriptions corresponds to one of the sixteen pesukim contained in the first two parshiyos of Shema. (See also the Eitz Yosef who appears to arrive at the same explanation, independently, and who also uses that idea to explain why 've'yatziv' is written in Aramaic, whereas all the other adjectives are in Loshon ha'Kodesh.)
I once heard in the name of Rebbi Wolbe sh'lita, that in this list of adjectives 'emes ve'yatziv' come first, whilst 'vetov ve'yofoh' come last, to show us the order of priorities. How often one hears a 'gut vort' (or we are even mechadesh one ourselves), and sometimes it is even a beautiful vort, it is appealing, the sort of vort that one likes to pass on to others, because everyone likes it. The question one should ask oneself is, is it 'emes'? If it is not, then perhaps it is better not to say it, for so Chazal have taught us. 'Just as one receives reward for saying a gut vort (when it deserves to be said), so too, does one receive reward for desisting from saying one (when it does not)'.
The Levush writes that 'emes ve'yatziv' in the morning refers to the Ge'ulah of Mitzrayim, where Hashem performed with us a kindness of truth, in fulfilling the promise that He made to the Ovos to redeem us - and He did. And it incorporates the Exodus from Egypt, G-d's Sovereignty, the Crossing of the Yam-Suf, the Striking of the first-born, the title of Hashem 'Tzur Yisroel' and the redemption.
Whereas, 'Emes ve'emunah' which we say at night-time, refers to the future Ge'ulah for which we yearn and which we believe will materialise soon. It is like our souls, which we deposit with Hashem every night, and we have faith that He will return them to us in the morning - well rested.
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