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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Savo: Remember to show appreciation
"You shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground … and you shall go to the place that HASHEM your G'd will choose to make His name dwell there." The Mishnah elaborates to describe in detail the ceremonies connected with the bringing of the first fruit. Everyone would do their utmost to fulfill this commandment in the most beautiful way possible. The Torah uses the word "Reishis" to hint at various entities that are referred to in scripture as being "Bereishis", the first. When the farmer would bring the first of his fruit he had to make a declaration. After the declaration, the farmer would give a short description of the Jewish history. In general, people remember anything that made a strong impression on them, and they forget things that are not significant in their life. Many people have the tendency to remember wrongdoings that befell them. This behavioural pattern is based on an attitude that the person feels he has everything coming to him. If he does not get what he is expecting, or if someone touches his ego, even accidentally, it will aggravate him a lot and he simply cannot forget it. The Torah teaches us to show appreciation, not just for this year's crop, but to remember how G'd has helped us throughout our history. Nowadays, when we do not have the Temple, and most of us are not farmers, we utilize Seder night to express these feelings. In Nishmas, again we express our gratitude in a similar way. The Jewish people express our gratitude to G'd for all the salvations we have experienced even when we did not deserve them. The Torah teaches that G'd found it worthwhile to create the world in order to instill in man this very fundamental character trait of appreciation.
In the beginning of this week's Parasha, it says (Devarim 26:1-2): "And it shall be when you come to the land that HASHEM your G'd gives you … and you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground … and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that HASHEM your G'd will choose to make His name dwell there."
First fruit ceremonies
The Mishnah (Bikkurim Chapter 3) elaborates to describe in detail the ceremonies connected with the bringing of the first fruit. The Jewish people were divided into twenty-four divisions, each one with its own leader. Each division would gather in the town of their leader to ascend to Jerusalem with their first fruits. Each division would bring along an ox whose horns were covered in gold. This ox, which would eventually be brought as an offering on the altar, was further adorned with a crown of olive branches on its head. In front of each division, musicians would play tunes on flutes while the travelers would recite parts of Tehillim appropriate to the occasion. When they got close to Jerusalem, they would make a stop to give everyone a chance to organize their fruits in beautiful arrangements. The affluent would arrange their fruit in vessels of gold and silver, whereas the poor would use woven baskets. In the meantime, they would send messengers to notify the inhabitants of Jerusalem that they were coming. As they entered the gates of Jerusalem local dignitaries would come out to welcome them. Special dispensation was given to the work force of Jerusalem to stop their work and rise to greet the visitors. All this was done to honour the ones coming to fulfill this special commandment of bringing the first fruit. As they continued through the streets of Jerusalem, the musicians would continue to play till the visitors reached the Temple mount. At that point, each visitor would place his basket on his shoulder and enter the Temple.
Beautify the commandment
The Torah does not instruct how much fruit should be brought and the farmer would fulfill his obligation by just bringing one fruit of each of the seven species that he had grown. But everyone would do their utmost to fulfill this commandment in the most beautiful way possible. This is a classic example, says Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (Path of the Just Chapter 19) of how we should always make an effort to beautify our fulfillment of the commandments. It was further enhanced by everyone joining their division to fulfill this commandment as a group. However, we do not find this kind of ceremonial pomp and circumstance described in regard to other offerings and commandments. The obvious question arises, what was so special about the bringing of the first fruit that the Jewish people undertook to make such a big deal of it?
"Reishis", the first
Even more, the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 1:6) discusses the unusual expression used in the very beginning of the Torah. Grammatically, the Hebrew word for "in the beginning" should be "Barishonah", rather than "Bereishis". The Midrash explains that the Torah uses the word "Bereishis" to hint at various entities that are referred to in scripture as being "Reishis", the first. One of these entities is Bikkurim, the first fruit. The Midrash explains that this comes to teach us that G'd would have created the world just for the sake of bringing the first fruit to the Temple. Again, the question arises, what is so special about this commandment that G'd wants us to know that for the sake of fulfilling this commandment alone it was worthwhile creating the whole world? To answer these questions we must analyze the deeper meaning and purpose of bringing the first fruit.
The Torah (Devarim 26:3-10) instructs that when the farmer would bring the first of his fruit he had to make a declaration. As soon as he came to the Temple, he would approach a Kohen and say to him, "I declare today to HASHEM your G'd that I have come to the land that G'd promised to our forefathers to give us." Rashi quotes from the Sifri (299) that this is an expression of one's gratitude to G'd for giving us the land.
Short Jewish history
Afterwards, the farmer would give a short description of the Jewish history starting with how Lavan tried to destroy Jacob. He would continue to describe how Jacob descended to Egypt with his small family and developed into a great and numerous nation. He would mention how the Egyptians afflicted us, and when we cried out to G'd, He took us out of Egypt performing many miracles prior to, and throughout the exodus. The farmer would conclude describing how G'd brought us to this land that flows with milk and honey and say, "And now see, I have brought the first fruit of the land that you HASHEM have given me."
Remember and forget
G'd created man with two abilities: to remember and to forget and if we utilize them correctly they can be huge blessings. In general, people remember anything that made a strong impression on them, and they forget things that are not significant in their life. Therefore, one can learn a lot about people by observing what they remember and what they forget.
Many people have the tendency to remember wrongdoings that befell them. If anything disturbs them in their relationship with different individuals, such as spouses, in-laws, fellow workers, or members of their community, their list of complaints just keeps growing. They do not just complain about the latest incident that just happened. Instead, they complain about all the incidents that have caused irritations or quarrels throughout the years, and they bring them up and refer to them over and over again.
Everything coming to him
On the other hand, when they are the recipients of a favour or positive gesture, they hardly mention it. Even if they remember to thank, they would never remember to mention favours or gestures from the past. Those were long forgotten. This behavioural pattern is based on an attitude that they feel everything is coming to them. If they do not get what they expect, or if someone touches their ego, even accidentally, it will aggravate them a lot and they simply cannot forget it. Such people use their abilities to remember and forget in a negative way detrimental to their well-being.
Contrary to this, the Torah educates us by the commandment of bringing the first fruit to acknowledge that this is a direct blessing from G'd. The Torah further teaches us to show appreciation, not just for this year's crop, but to remember how G'd has helped us throughout our history. Right from the beginning when Jacob was in exile and stayed by Lavan, we have been afflicted. In every generation, there have been individuals and groups that stood up to destroy us and only through G'd's mercy we were saved from their hands and survived as a nation. When the farmer came to the Temple with his first fruit he would enumerate the various salvations we merited as a nation, and at the same time express his immense gratitude to G'd for his personal experience of farming his land and harvesting his crop.
Nowadays, when we do not have the Temple, and most of us are not farmers, we utilize the Seder night to express these feelings. As a matter of fact, a major part of the Haggadah is based on the declaration said at the time of the Temple when one brought one's first fruit. We do not just thank G'd for our latest survival, but we make sure to enumerate everything that has happened to us, right from the days of our Patriarchs.
Every Shabbos, at the end of Pesukei D'zimrah, we add the extra paragraph of Nishmas. Here again we express our gratitude in a similar way, as we say, "You liberated us from Egypt, HASHEM our G'd, and you redeemed us from the house of bondage. You nourished us during famine, and provided for us in time of plenty. You saved us from sword, and you let us escape from plague. And you spared us from difficult, enduring sicknesses."
Gratitude for salvation
The Jewish people have suffered more difficulties and persecutions than any other nation in the history of the world. However, we focus and marvel how we have survived through all of it as a nation. With G'd's help and assistance, we have always managed to rebuild and continue our lives. We never complain about our suffering as we accept that all our difficulties result from our own shortcomings. Rather, we express our gratitude to G'd for all the salvations we have experienced even when we did not deserve them.
Fundamental character trait of appreciation
Right at the beginning of Creation, the Torah teaches that G'd found it worthwhile to create the world in order to instill in man this very fundamental character trait of appreciation. It is a character trait that applies both in our attitude to G'd and in our inter-personal relationships with other people. The Jewish people understood the importance of developing this feeling of gratitude, and therefore, fulfilled the commandment of bringing the first fruit to the Temple in a very special way. Thus it became be a yearly reminder of the importance to remember and focus on all of the good we experience, and to express our gratitude to each other and to G'd Who constantly blesses us with an abundance of lovingkindness.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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