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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Savo: From first fruits to daily prayers

Summary

When Moses saw that the first fruit offering would be discontinued he instituted that the Jewish people should pray three times daily. The Talmud teaches that our three daily prayers were instituted by our Patriarchs. A person should always first express praise to G'd and then say his prayer. One should express thanks and appreciation at the end of one's prayer. Prostration is the highest form of expressing gratitude to G'd. When a person prays and asks for his personal needs, he acknowledges how he is dependent on G'd and His blessings. Our Patriarchs instituted the daily prayers teaching us that we have one source where to ask for our daily needs, whether personal or communal. "Who is rich? The one who is satisfied with his lot." We should always remember, appreciate and be thankful for all the good that G'd does for us.

First fruit offering lost/

At the beginning of this week's parasha, we are instructed to bring the first fruit, which we harvest, to the Temple. The Midrash Tanchuma (ibid) says that Moses had a prophetic vision and saw that the Temple was eventually going to be destroyed and the first fruit offering would be discontinued. He therefore instituted that in lieu of the offering the Jewish people should pray three times daily. Concludes the Midrash, "For prayer is more dear to G'd than any good deed or offering." Moses himself clearly displayed the significance of prayer. Despite all his good deeds, when it was decreed that he could not enter the land of Israel, the only thing Moses felt he could do to change the decree was to pray to G'd.

Patriarchs' prayers

It is strange that the Midrash says that Moses was the one who instituted the daily three prayers. This seems to contradict the words of the Talmud. The Talmud (Berachot 26b) teaches that our three daily prayers were instituted by our Patriarchs. Abraham was the first to pray the Morning Prayer; Isaac was the first to pray the afternoon prayer; and Jacob was the first to pray the evening prayer. We further need to understand what is the connection between the offering of the first fruit and the three daily prayers.

First express praise

In order to answer these questions, we shall analyze another statement of the Talmud (ibid 32a): "A person should always first express praise to G'd and then say his prayer." The Talmud continues to explain that we learn this from Moses. Before he prayed for the revocation of the Heavenly decree prohibiting him from going into the land of Israel, he praised G'd and said: (Devarim 3:24) "For what power is there in the Heaven and on Earth that can do like Your deeds and mightiness?"

Express thanks at end

Based on this the Rambam (Laws of Prayer 1:2), rules that a person should first praise G'd and then ask for his needs. After that, he should thank G'd for the goodness that He has bestowed upon him. There is an apparent difference between the Talmud's statement and the Rambam's ruling. The Talmud only enumerated two parts to prayer, praise of G'd and requests for personal needs. So where is the source of the Rambam's ruling that one should express thanks and appreciation at the end of one's prayer?

Prostration

Before answering this question, I would like to share an amazing insight from Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, the late Rosh Hayeshiva of the famous Mir Yeshiva. Rabbi Shmulevitz points out that the only commandment where the Torah obligates us to prostrate ourselves is when we bring the first fruit. As it says, (Devarim 26:2-10): "And you shall take of the first fruit of the earth and you shall place it in a basket and you shall place it in front of HASHEM your G'd, and you shall prostrate yourself before HASHEM your G'd." Rabbi Shmulevitz explains that when we prostrate ourselves we express the ultimate acknowledgment that, although we have diligently worked our fields, we realize that we, ourselves, have no ability to do anything; rather, everything is G'd-given. However hard a person works in his field, nothing would grow without the rain falling, the sun shining, and the earth providing all the necessary nutrients to allow the produce to grow and develop. When the farmer prostrates himself when he brings his first fruit, he expresses the highest form of gratitude to G'd. It shows that whatever he has, and however much effort he has exerted, nothing would have been produced if not for G'd's blessings.

Dependent on G'd

Says Rabbi Shmulevitz, Moses saw that the day would come when the Jewish people would not be able to bring the first fruit of their labour to acknowledge that everything comes from G'd. He understood that this powerful message would need to be replaced. Moses decided the appropriate time would be when we pray and asks for our personal needs. At that time, we express how dependent we are on G'd and His blessings, and we cannot achieve anything without G'd's help. At that same time, we must show our gratitude for all of G'd's blessings.

Mercy for our daily needs

We can now attempt to reconcile the statements in the Talmud and the Midrash. Our Patriarchs instituted the daily prayers and taught us that whatever we need, whether personal or communal, we have only one source where to ask for it. Abraham prayed for the inhabitants of Sodom that they should be saved. In his great compassion for any human being, he extended himself, even for these wicked people (see Sforno Bereishis 19:27). Isaac prayed when Rebecca was brought to him by his father's servant. At that time, he was single and had just lost his mother. It is not difficult to imagine what type of prayer was on Isaac's lips (see Rashi and Sforno ibid 24:62-63). Similarly, Jacob prayed as he was fleeing his brother Eisav and on route to his uncle Laban. Danger was lurking on all sides, and he asked G'd to protect him (see Rashi ibid 28:11). This teaches us that for any need we have, we must pray to G'd. Moses, on the other hand, instituted a different aspect of prayer. He taught that with every prayer, we must remember to express gratitude for all the blessings that G'd has bestowed upon us.

Appreciate what we have

My late father used to say that, in any given situation, we have more reasons to thank G'd than to complain about. If we get accustomed to count our blessings and appreciate what we have, how much happier and satisfying would our lives be. As its says in Pirkei Avos (4:1), "Who is rich? The one who is satisfied with his lot." In general, we take our blessings for granted and expect things to go well. When we wake up in the morning and are able to open our eyes, put our feet on the ground, and attend to our personal routines, we do not give it too much thought. Most of us go to our job and business, and support our family, and we feel that this is natural. But the moment something goes wrong and does not function as expected, we have questions: Why did this happen and why to me?

Nothing too big or small

When we open our Siddur and take a closer look at the daily prayers, we find that we actually start our day praising G'd and thanking Him that we are able to open our eyes, walk around and do all our daily chores. The structure of our main prayer, the Shemona Esrei, that we say three times a day, is structured exactly as described by the Rambam. In the first three blessings we praise G'd. This is followed by thirteen blessings of personal and communal requests. These thirteen blessings were instituted by our Patriarchs. Nothing is too big or too small for us to turn to our Father in Heaven to beg of Him to provide us with our needs.

At the end of Shemona Esrei, after we have presented our requests, we express our gratitude and thank G'd for all that He does and bestows upon us constantly. This was instituted by Moses. Since we have no Temple where we can express our appreciation, Moses made it part of our daily prayers. This blessing is recited between two final requests, one for the restoration of the service in the Temple and one for peace for the Jewish nation. This symbolizes our longing to express our gratitude when we will bring the first fruit to the Temple in Jerusalem in peace. May we all merit to see the fulfillment of this in the new year, together with the rest of the Jewish people.

These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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