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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


You shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground…and go to the place that Hashem , your G-d, will choose to make His Name rest there. (26:2)

The mitzvah of Bikkurim, offering one's first fruits to the Kohen in the Bais HaMikdash, is a mitzvah which symbolizes the Jew's sense of gratitude, by dedicating everything that he has to the service of Hashem. We must realize that regardless of the time and effort we invest in any given endeavor, the successful results are a gift from Hashem. Much has been said and written about one's overwhelming responsibility to recognize, appreciate and pay gratitude to those who benefit us. Indeed, this is probably the measure of a man. One who appreciates, is a human being - one who does not appreciate, simply is not to be counted among the members of the human race.

Among those who are on the top of the list of those who earn and deserve our gratitude are, of course, Hashem and our parents. They share one thing in common: we can never sufficiently repay them for what they do for us. I recently came across a noteworthy story which is well worth imparting. It is about a woman who wanted to do something special for her mother, to give her a gift that would convey her gratitude and love.

She tried to imagine what it was that her mother needed most. After careful introspection she came to a simple, but profound conclusion, one that probably applies to all parents: Her mother needed to know that she made a difference in the lives of her children. While we all know this to be true, how many of us stop to think about it? Furthermore, how many of us do something about it? Parents give up so much for their children. Some give up money, others give up time. There are those very special parents who even give up their dreams, their own opportunities for personal growth and advancement - all for their children. All they really want in return is a little feedback, some indication that their efforts were not in vain.

So, in recognition of her mother's efforts and in gratitude, she made a "memory jar"for her. She purchased a large glass jar with a lid and placed over one hundred little pieces of paper in the jar. On each piece of paper she jotted down a memory that she wanted to share with her mother. They were simple but meaningful memories. She remembered the talk they had when she became engaged and the one right before she got married. She remembered how she saved her money to buy a dress and how her mother had paid for half of it. She remembered how scared she was as a little girl when her mother was sick and had to go to the hospital. She remembered calling her mother to inform her that she had just become a grandmother. Simple memories - but each one told a story of love and caring.

There are variations to this jar. I am sure that if we would sit down and think we could come up with a "number" of instances during our lives for which we must thank our parents. Some of us might find it difficult to say thank you because that is human nature. The debt of gratitude we owe our parents is overwhelming and the time during which we can express ourselves is limited. So, what are we waiting for ?

Gaze down from Your Holy abode, from the heavens, and bless Your People, Yisrael. (26:15)

The parsha of Bikkurim ends with a special prayer entreating Hashem to gaze down from His sacred abode in Heaven, and listen to the pleas of Klal Yisrael. The Midrash Tanchuma relates that Moshe Rabbeinu, upon seeing through Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, that the Bais HaMikdash will one day be destroyed, established for Klal Yisrael a ritual of three daily prayers. Prayer is even more beloved to Hashem than good deeds and sacrifices. We see from here that there is an intrinsic relationship between prayer and Bikkurim.

Horav Gedaliah Schorr, zl, explains that both through the mediums of Bikkurim and of prayer, one recognizes and conveys the notion that everything comes from Hashem. It is for this reason that we begin the Shemoneh Esrai prayer with the berachah of "Atah chonen l'adam daas," "You graciously endow man with knowledge," a prayer that expresses our gratitude for being endowed with intelligence and the ability to recognize the source of all things. Likewise, in the Bikkurim entreaty we convey our gratitude for the blessings that we have been granted. Consequently, Moshe implored Hashem that Klal Yisrael always retain the power of prayer - even when the Bais HaMikdash and its ensuing mitzvah of Bikkurim are no longer functional. The recognition of "Atah chonen," "You graciously endow," catalyzes our hakoras ha'tov, appreciation and gratitude, for all that He does for us.

In an alternative exposition, Rav Schorr cites the Chidushei Ha'Rim who explains that just as Bikkurim is a way of consecrating the reishis, beginning/first fruits, so too, does prayer sanctify the beginning of our "time." Subsequently, immediately upon rising in the morning we hurry to the shul to pray to Hashem. In the afternoon, as the sun begins to set in the west, we hasten to the shul so that we may convey our gratitude to Hashem. Likewise, at the onset of night, we accept upon ourselves the Ol Malchus Shomayim, yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. We hope that our actions will have an "overflow" effect on the other hours of the day, so that our zman, "time," will be holy.

What Moshe Rabbeinu achieved through his entreaty was that Hashem will accept our heartfelt prayers although they are not embellished by the sanctity of the Bais HaMikdash. Our prayers should be like the Bikkurim of old, which were offered with profound gratitude to He that is the Source of everything.

All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you. (28:2)

The berachos, blessings, will reach one who is worthy of blessing. What does one do to be worthy of blessing? What merit catalyzes blessing? The following narrative sheds light on this question. It was Purim day in the small town of Bendin. The entire community was involved with the mitzvos of the day. Some were sending Mishloach Manos, traditional gifts of food, to each other, while others were occupied with the mitzvah of Matanos l'Evyonim, giving charity to the poor. Yet others were observing simchas Purim, the joy of Purim by singing, dancing, and feasting, celebrating the Jewish People's being spared from Haman's evil decree. The entire community was thus engaged, well almost the entire community,.everyone but one Jew, Rav Zev Nachum Burnstein, zl, who studied Torah all day long, "Lo posak pumei migizsei," "His mouth did not stop for a moment. He was always studying Torah. A scholar of note, Rav Burnstein was also a chassid of the famous Kotzker Rebbe.

The Kotzker later related that on that Purim there was a great uproar in the Heavenly Tribunal. Had Rav Nachum Zev not been learning during that period, there would have been an interval when the study of Torah - pure study with toil and diligence would have been lacking. This would have created an awesome spiritual crisis. Rav Nachum Zev must therefore be rewarded. His zchus ha'Torah, merit of Torah study, achieved great heights. His reward was commensurate with his deed. He was given a special gift - his son, Rav Avraham, who authored the incredible volumes of Iglei Tal and Avnei Nezer, whose encyclopedic knowledge and brilliance illuminated the Torah world.

We may add that we derive from here that Hashem rewards a person commensurate with his values. One who appreciates and values Torah will have unparalleled joy to see his son grow up to be a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah leader. Conversely, others might not be enamored with such a blessing, viewing the Torah scholar in a somewhat disdainful manner. They would much rather see their son become a successful professional. Well, to each his own.

Hashem will confirm you for Himself as a holy people…if you observe the commandments of Hashem…and you go in His ways. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you and they will revere you. (28:9,10)

Horav M.D. Soloveitchik, Shlita, cites Chazal who interpret the enjoinment to "follow in His ways," as to emulate Hashem. Just like He is compassionate, so shall you be compassionate, etc. Subsequently, we achieve deveikus, we cling to Hashem, through our mitzvah performance. Thus, when people will observe that Hashem's Name is "called upon us," they will ultimately fear the Almighty. What greater Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem's Name, is there than by seeing the positive actions and good deeds of His followers.

Rav Soloveitchik notes the awesome responsibility this presents for the Jew. When one performs a mitzvah it no longer is a personal experience - it has a direct influence on the klal, general community. Consequently, when one transgresses it has a negative effect not only on him, but on the community as well. A Jew must realize that he cannot isolate himself from the community. He does not live alone in a vacuum. His actions - both positive and negative - have an effect on others. This should inspire and motivate our positive performance.

Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart. (28:47)

Simchah, joy, is the characteristic upon which our Sages have placed great emphasis. Indeed, it is one of the primary tenets upon which the concepts of Chassidism is based. Being born into a world of lingering doom and depression, the world of chassidus focused on overcoming dejection and melancholy and its overriding effect on one's religious life. While joy and the display of joy became the benchmark of chassidus, they did not have a monopoly on the concept. While there were detractors who felt that excessive joy betrayed a lack of seriousness, most others felt that these emotions injected a welcome vitality into the solemnity of religious life.

The focus on joy takes on a number of aspects. At its most basic level, joy means not being depressed. At its zenith, a Jew is overjoyed at being part of the Chosen People. Fundamental to chassidic doctrine is the joy inherent with being near Hashem. The world is Hashem's creation and man is a part of that world. Man is filled with joy knowing that the Almighty has befriended him.

We must add, however, that even in sadness there are two aspects. Horav Nachman, zl, m'Breslov distinguished between a lev nishbar, broken heart, and atzvus, sadness and sorrow. He explains that sadness is expressed in anger and irritability, whereas brokenheartedness is much like a son cleansing himself before his father, like a child crying and complaining that he has been sent far away from his father. The purifying desire, the longing for reconciliation is interpreted as a "brokenheart." This form of sadness is not the antithesis of joy. Indeed, for us to achieve such a plateau of longing for Hashem, should in itself be a source of joy.

The Breslover focuses much of his lectures on the significance of joy and the harmful effect of depression. He considers sadness as being part of the kelipos, outer shells, the Kabbalistic symbol of evil. Sadness and melancholy are like dust which clog the Jewish heart, rendering it unable to burst into flame from the fiery passion of serving Hashem. By removing extraneous emotional burdens, joy enables one to intellectually cogitate upon his ultimate purpose in the world, and thereby make it possible for his religious experience to flourish. When one dances out of joy at a simchah shel mitzvah, for the sake of Heaven, he is able to rid himself of all sinful and immoral acts involved with his legs. A cheerful frame of mind gives one the opportunity to pray to Hashem with greater ease and ecstasy.

As mentioned, the joy inherent in being a part of Klal Yisrael should be most inspiring. The Divrei Chaim, zl, was wont to say, "If a Jew would realize how lucky he is to be a Yehudi, he would be delirious with happiness." What a penetrating statement! If only more of us would realize our distinctiveness we might act appropriately.

It goes even further. A widow once approached the Divrei Chaim as he was sitting in conference with Rav Sholom, zl, m'Kaminka. She bewailed her miserable lot in life. Her husband's demise left his family bereft of a breadwinner. She and her children were overcome with abject poverty. Now, their landlord was trying to eject them from their home. Her incessant weeping and grievous circumstances had their effect on Rav Sholom, who began to cry with her. The Divrei Chaim, on the other hand, declared in a joyful tone, "Do not worry. Go home, things will work out for you." After she had left, Rav Sholom, queried the Divrei Chaim how he could retain his happy disposition after listening to the widow's tale of woe. He responded, "To be able to intercede on behalf of another Jew one must be b'simchah, filled with joy." We submit that the reason for this is that one must approach Hashem with confidence, with faith, with belief that Hashem will see the positive virtue of the one in need. After all, it is difficult to "sell something" that one does not believe in.

Lastly, to sum up the feeling of joy intrinsic in mitzvah performance, we cite the following anecdote. Horav Avraham, zl, m'Teschinov had a close friend who was also a great gaon, brilliant scholar. His friend once asked him, "Explain something to me. Both of us have studied Torah for many years, and have become proficient in its profundities. Moreover, we both diligently perform mitzvos and serve Hashem with great devotion. Why then is it that you are called "Rebbe" by everyone and I am not?"

Rav Avraham responded, "Can you tell me when you experienced such heightened joy that you can not even describe it?" "Yes," answered his friend. "Once, I made ten thousand rubles on a single business venture." Hearing this, the Teshchinover Rebbe said, "My friend, when I stretch out my arm to put on Tefillin as my Creator has commanded me, I am filled with much greater joy than you experienced when you profited ten thousand ruble!" When the friend heard this, he declared, "If so, the world is not mistaken - you truly deserve to be called Rebbe."

Questions & Answers

1) From which species of fruit is Bikkurim brought?

2) For how long did Yaakov live in Aram?

3) What is the Maaser cycle?

4) Was the entire Torah inscribed on the stones?

5) Which commandments would be enumerated and the people were to acknowledge the blessings for those who observe them and the curses for those who violate them. What do these mitzvos have in common?


1) The Shivah minim, seven species of fruit for which Eretz Yisrael is praised: wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, date, olive.

2) Twenty years.

3) Years one and two: Maaser Rishon, Maaser Sheni; year three: Maaser Rishon, Maaser Ani; the same cycle follows for years four and five and six. Year seven is Shemittah.

4) All the mitzvos, but not the entire Torah was inscribed (Rav Saadiah Gaon).

5) These are the type of acts that the transgressor can do secretly (Rashbam). Alternatively, these are the sort of sins that are committed by powerful and influential people (Sforno).

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