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SEPTEMBER 12-13, 2003 16 ELUL 5763

Pop Quiz: What did a person have to do with his bikkurim (first fruits)?


"In the morning, you will say, 'I wish it were evening.'" (Debarim 28:67)

Our perashah tells what will occur in our history if our nation fails to observe the Torah. The situation could deteriorate to the point where a person is so distraught that in the morning, he would wish that it would be evening already, and when evening arrives, he would wish it would be morning. Our nation has gone through these difficult times and we are hopeful that our redemption is close at hand.

There is an interesting interpretation of our verse by the book "Peninim Yekarim." At every stage of a person's life, his evil inclination attempts to dissuade him from performing all of the misvot properly. "baboker tomar" - in the morning of one's life, while he is still young, he will say, "mi yiten ereb" - I have a whole life ahead of me. I'll wait until the evening years of my life to serve Hashem." "Ba'ereb tomar" - However, once he reaches the later years of his life and he is weak and infirm, he will say "mi yiten boker" - I wish I were young again and would have the powers of concentration and the stamina of my youth to be able to study Torah and observe it."

In our run-around world, we are tempted to think that the time will come when things slow down a bit, and we can do what we always wanted to do. However, now we have energy and the ability to serve Hashem. By the time things slow down, so do we. Now is the time! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy" (Debarim 28:47)

The Torah lists a long string of misfortunes that may befall the Jewish people (G-d forbid). Indeed, some of the events mentioned in these curses are very tragic and have happened to our nation throughout history. The reason given for this harsh conduct by Hashem against us is that we did not serve Hashem with happiness.

The Ari z"l gives this verse a twist and learns it in a novel fashion. The reason for these curses is that when we did not serve Hashem, we did it with happiness, which means that when we were doing sins, we did them with a good feeling rather than with regret and remorse.

This has to teach us that not only our actions count but even our attitudes while doing these actions. If we end up doing something wrong, we have to feel badly even while doing it so that it's not considered as if we did the wrong thing with happiness. One of the methods of following this advice is by doing misvot with happiness. If we feel good when doing the right thing, even if we sometimes fall and do the wrong thing it will not be with joy but with reluctance and hopefully regret. That way we will tend to increase those things which we associate with happiness, which are the misvot, and stay away from those things which we are doing without happiness! Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"Then you shall call out and say...'An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather.' He descended to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became...G-d took us out of Egypt with a strong hand...He brought us to this place" (Debarim 26:5-9)

According to Rashi, the person bringing Bikurim mentions this "to recall the kindness of the Omnipresent." Why does he mention only these two things and not other miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish people, such as the rescuing of Ya'akob from Esav, the crossing of the Red Sea, the victory over Amalek, supplying the Jewish people with manna and water during the forty year sojourn in the wilderness, etc.?

The obligation to bring Bikurim commenced only after the Jews came to Eress Yisrael, conquered it and divided it up. This implies that the purpose of bringing Bikurim is not just to express our gratitude for receiving Eress Yisrael but also for the capability of dwelling there permanently in tranquility and enjoy its fruit in peace. Thus, to emphasize Hashem's great act of kindness, we cite in contrast, other places where we dwelled permanently for a considerable amount of time.

In those places such as Aram where Ya'akob and his family dwelled for twenty years, and in Egypt where the entire Jewish people dwelled for two hundred and ten years, not only did we not enjoy peace and tranquility, but the native population wanted to destroy us, and fortunately Hashem with His great kindness saved us from their hands. Unlike these two, all other miracles and acts of kindness were not connected with permanent residency in a particular place, and are thus not mentioned now, because it would not demonstrate the contrast to our living permanently in Eress Yisrael in peace and tranquility. (Vedibarta Bam)


"Your life shall hang in doubt before you, and you shall fear day and night, and you will have no assurance of your life" (Debarim 28:66)

The Talmud explains the verse as referring to the pain and suffering of worrying about the future. "Your life shall hang in doubt before you" refers to someone who does not own land and buys a year's worth of grain each year. Though he has grain for this year, he worries about next year. The second level, "You shall fear night and day," refers to someone who buys grain once a week. He is in a worse situation, since he has to find grain every week. The most severe level, "You will have no assurance of your life," refers to someone who has to buy bread every day. He constantly has what to worry about.

Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz cited this statement of the Sages and pointed out that a person creates his own mental torture by his own thoughts. If you have enough food for today and you appreciate what you have, you are a fortunate person and will live a happy life. But if you keep worrying about the future, you will never have peace of mind. Even if you have enough to eat for the entire year, you can easily destroy the quality of your life by keeping your mind focused on all that can go wrong next year. Regardless of what will be next year, you are causing yourself suffering right now.

Learn to have mental self-discipline. Don't dwell on what you are missing unless it can lead to constructive planning. Why cause yourself unnecessary pain and anguish when you can choose to keep your thoughts on what you do have in the present? If you are a worrier, the best thing you can do for yourself is to train yourself to be the master of your thoughts. Even if you never gain complete control, whatever control you do have is a great blessing. (Growth through Torah)


Question: Why do the Kohanim cover their heads with the tallet?

Answer: 1) So they will not be distracted. 2) So people will not look at the Kohanim. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"Accursed is the one who will not uphold the words of this Torah to perform them." (Debarim 27:26)

The Ramban explains that this curse applies not only to someone who does not uphold all of the Torah, but also to someone who had the opportunity to influence others to follow the Torah but did not do so. Although we are always obligated to work on our own personal spiritual growth, we also have the responsibility to encourage and assist others in improving themselves. One who neglects this duty demonstrates that even his own personal growth is not l'shem shamayim - for the sake of Heaven. If his true goal was to glorify Hashem's Name and increase the observance of the Torah, he would have done his best to bring as many people as possible along with him. By only looking out for himself, he shows that his intention was only for personal glory or honor.

Question: Without mentioning any names, can you think of someone who you have personally helped to grow spiritually in the past month? There are many ways to encourage others. With what method do you find that you are most successful?


This Week's Haftarah: Yishayahu 60:1-22.

This haftarah is the sixth of the series of seven haftarot of comfort, which are read from Tish'ah B'Ab to Rosh Hashanah. Yishayahu prophesizes that the nations will come to realize that Hashem rules the world. Hashem gives his guarantee that in the final redemption, Hashem will be an eternal light for us, and our days of mourning will be ended.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Bring them to the Bet Hamikdash and give them to the kohen.

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