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September 3-4, 2004 18 ELUL 5764

Pop Quiz: By which two mountains would the levi'im pronounce the blessings and curses when they entered the land?


"The Kohen shall take the basket from your hand" (Debarim 26:4)

The first part of our perashah discusses the misvah of Bikurim. The first fruits of one's field were brought to the Temple as a gesture of thanksgiving. At that time the farmer declared his gratitude to Hashem for giving the land of Israel to His people. The first fruits were put in a basket, which was handed to the Kohen, who in turn placed it before the altar. When this ritual was concluded, a heavenly voice (a bat kol) came forth from above and blessed the bringer of the Bikurim. The voice said, "Just as you have brought the first fruits today, so may you merit to repeat this ritual next year as well" (Rashi 26:16).

Our Sages tell us that a rich person would bring his first fruits in a golden basket, whereas a poor person would bring his in a wicker basket. The gold basket was returned to the owner by the Kohen, while the more modest basket made of wicker was not returned. The question arises as to why such a seemingly unfair custom was instituted. Why should the rich man get his gold basket back while the modest basket of the poor man was not returned?

Rabbi R. Pelcovitz explains that the answer lies in the heavenly blessing given to

the bringer, mentioned above. Note that the one who brings Bikurim is given a heavenly blessing that he should live another year and merit to bring Bikurim once again. We have no way of knowing, however, what his financial and economic status will be next year. If he remains poor he will bring the fruits in a wicker basket again. If he becomes rich he will bring them in a gold basket. If he gets rich he will have no use for the wicker basket next year. That is precisely why the Kohen does not return the poor basket to the poor man, for that is part of the blessing. It is like saying, "May you not need this basket next year." The rich man, on the other hand, is given back his gold basket, for that is part of his blessing, that he should merit to remain wealthy and bring Bikurim in a gold basket again.

What at first sight seemed to be an unfair practice turned out to be a beautiful blessing. As always, the ways of the Torah are pleasant. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

After all the curses and punishments that are written in our perashah, the Torah says that this will happen if we don't serve Hashem with joy and happiness when we are blessed with everything. The Rabbis tell us that doing misvot without happiness means it's a burden and a chore, and eventually people stop doing what is a bother.

The Midrash points out another aspect about being happy. There was once a king whose son was not behaving properly and the king wanted to punish him. However, every time it was time to receive his punishment, the boy would smile and show such happiness at being with the king that the king could not bring himself to hurt his son. When we show that we are happy being the children of Hashem, He becomes filled with love for us and wants to send us berachah from heaven. Especially in our times, when people worry about the future and there are so many long faces around, this is the time we should remember this lesson. We should try to think about positive aspects of our lives and smile and be happy. This will spark within us a greater feeling of joy which will continue to make us feel good and accomplish more. And happiness is contagious, so others will become inspired and encouraged when they see us happy and content, and this could only have a greater ripple effect on those around us. So let's be happy and smile, and let's see the results. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"You will be left few in number, instead of having been like the stars of heaven in abundance" (Debarim 28:62)

Sometimes the number of the Jewish people is analogous to the dust of the earth (Beresheet 28:14) and sometimes to the stars of the heaven (ibid. 15:5). Why in our pasuk is the analogy of the stars used?

The number of stars and the number of dust particles are both very large, but there is a major difference between them. The dust particles of the earth are mingled together and in close contact. The stars, however, are separated by vast differences. When there is unity among the Jews, they are compared to the dust of the earth, and when disunited they are compared to the stars of the heaven.

The word "tachat" also means "because" as in, "tachat asher lo abadta - because you did not serve..." (28:47). The Torah is saying, "You will be left few in number, tachat, because, you were [disunited] like the stars of the heaven." (Vedibarta Bam)


"And you shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem has given you" (Debarim 26:11)

We are commanded by the Torah to be happy and satisfied with everything that Hashem has given us. Unfortunately, this is sometimes a difficult task because it is human nature that "a person who has one hundred wants two hundred." Often, this desire for more prevents us from enjoying what we have.

Happiness is not based on what you actually have. It is based on your attitude towards it. If you feel that you will be happy if you only had a little bit more, then you will never be happy. Because even if you do get a little more, you will again wish that you had a little bit more. As it is taught in Pirkei Abot (4:1), "Who is wealthy? He who happy with his lot." Imagine that a person had a rich uncle that he didn't know about, and then the uncle died and left him a vast fortune. However, the executors of the will couldn't locate him, so he never received the inheritance. Even though he had great wealth coming to him, could he be considered wealthy? He is not able to get any enjoyment from it. In fact, he isn't even aware that it exists. It is the same thing with us. We cannot truly feel happiness until we make an effort to see what we really have. Even though you have eyes, legs, a mind and countless other functioning body parts, you cannot be considered wealthy unless you appreciate these gifts and take pleasure in them.

Question: Name three things that you haven't fully appreciated up until now? Is there anything that you are lacking that you feel would make you happier if you had it?


Question: Why do we say "tipol alehem ematah vafahad bigdol zeroacha yidemu ka'aben," both forwards and backwards in Bircat Halebanah?

Answer: It has meaning both ways. Forwards, it refers to evil people. The fear of G-d will fall upon them and they will be removed from the world like a rock. Backwards, it refers to righteous people, who will be like rocks, and they will have full fear of G-d. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


This Week's Haftarah: Yeshayahu 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. Yeshayahu prophesizes that the nations will come to realize that Hashem rules the world. Hashem gives his guarantee that in the final redemption, He will be an eternal light for us, and our days of mourning will end.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.

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