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Parshas Ki Savo

To Tell the Truth
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

In this week's Parsha, we learn that when we bring the bikkurim, first fruit, to the Beis Hamikdash, we must recite a tefilla, prayer, known as Mikra Bikkurim (the recital of the first fruit). In this tefilla, which must be recited in Hebrew, and in a loud voice, the one who brings the bikkurim expresses his gratitude to Hashem for all of His kindness in redeeming us from Egypt, giving us Eretz Yisrael and giving us the produce of the land. Although hakaras hatov, gratitude, to the Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe) is a very important principle, not everyone was able to fulfil this mitzva. A woman who brought bikkurim or a shaliach, agent, bringing first fruits of behalf of it's owner did not recite mikra bikkurim because they could not recite the words "the ground that You have given me"(26:10). Women did not receive their own portion in Eretz Yisrael and the fruit brought by the agent was not produced on his land. (Bikkurim 1:5).

The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzva 606) writes that we learn from here how important it is to properly pronounce the words of our prayers and to concentrate fully on their meaning. The Torah exempted women and agents from mikra bikkurim in its entirety on account of just a few words - "the ground that you have given me". It would be untrue for them to utter this phrase before Hashem. How much more so should we concentrate on our tefillos and be conscious of what we are requesting from Hashem, in order that we should not come to utter falsehoods before Him.

We also learn the importance of sincerity in prayer from the following teaching of Chazal. The Gemara in Yoma (69b) relates that even though Moshe Rabbeinu said: "The great, powerful and awesome G-d" (Devarim 10:17), Yirmiyahu said "Nevuchadnezar's officers are trampling in the Beis Hamikdash. Where is His awesomeness?" Thus he omitted "awesome" from the prayers. Then during the Babylonian exile, Daniel said "The gentiles are enslaving Hashem's children. Where is His power?" Therefore Daniel also omitted 'powerful'. The Anshei Knesses HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) reinstated the original text of this tefilla arguing that Hashem reveals His strength by restraining Himself from punishing the wicked. As we learn in Avos "Who is powerful? The one who restrains his will" (4:1). Furthermore, the very fact that one nation continues to survive amongst the seventy nations, attests to His awesomeness. Nevertheless, Yirmiyahu and Daniel, who certainly understood that Hashem was powerful and awesome, felt that it would be a falsehood to describe Hashem in these glowing terms when they were unable to perceive these traits.

The Rosh writes, "We should concentrate on our tefillos because prayer is avodas haleiv, service of the heart. If your son would speak to you but his heart was not there, you would be angered… How then, can you stand before the King [and be totally oblivious to what you are saying], it would be proper to ask forgiveness for reciting the bracha 'slach lanu-forgive us' without intent." (Orchas Chaim L'haRosh no. 36). Although any mitzva performed by rote is frowned upon, this is even more so regarding tefilla.

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner zt'l writes that all other mitzvos bring us closer to Hashem through their fulfilment. By fulfilling His will, we become closer to Hashem. However the mitzva of tefilla is the actual closeness to Hashem, to come before Him. Therefore, when we daven before Hashem, we should recognise that we are standing in the presence of the King. We must understand what we are requesting and place our trust in Him completely, confident in the knowledge that only Hashem can fulfil our requests. Our actions should be consistent with the belief that everything is in His hands.

Once we are able to daven with sincerity and put our trust fully in the Ribbono Shel Olam, we move on to a new stage. The Gemara says: "One who wants to be a chassid, a pious Jew, should fulfil the words of brachos." (Bava Kamma 30a). The simple meaning is to be careful with the laws of brachos. The Ben Yehoyada adds that it could also be explained to mean that we should strive to personally fulfil all that we recite in the Shemoneh Esrei. Just as Hashem bestows kindness and remembers the deeds of the Avos, forefathers, we too, should endeavour to perform acts of kindness with our fellow Jews and follow in the footsteps of the Avos. We mention that the holy ones praise Hashem - we should also strive to be holy. We ask Hashem to grant us wisdom - we too, must share our wisdom with others. If we want Hashem to aid us to repent, then we must also help others to return to Him. Just as we ask for forgiveness, we too should forgive all that harm us. We want Hashem to heal us - we too should aid in healing the sick. We ask Hashem to provide us with our livelihood - we should place our total trust in Him. We want Him to restore the judges, so we must endeavour to follow the judges. We recite a bracha for the tzaddikim - let us honour them properly. We daven for Yerushalayim - let us concern ourselves with its needs. We declare: "We hope for Your salvation every day" - we must train ourselves to truly hope for Hashem's salvation. We ask Hashem not to turn us away empty-handed, therefore we should be careful not to turn away others who seek our help. We declare that we thank Hashem - we must strive to constantly thank Him for all His kindness and realise that He is the source of everything. We ask Hashem for peace, so we must also seek peace. One who emulates his prayers is a true chassid.

As we begin to beseech Hashem for life, let us demonstrate our trust in the words of David Hamelech that we mention every Shabbos: "Which man desires life, loves days to see good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit" (Tehillim 34). David Hamelech has given us the key to longevity. Let us heed his advice and in this merit may we all merit a Kesiva V'chasima Tova, to be written and sealed for good.

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