One of the major thrusts in Judaism is hakaras hatov, appreciation of the good which G-d constantly bestows upon us. And as with appreciation of our fellow man, the emphasis is on appreciating not only the material dimension of G-d’s kindness, but also the love and care which He showers on every person.
In this vein, we can understand the sequence of our Torah reading, Parshas Ki Savo. The reading begins by describing the mitzvah of bikkurim (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), the first fruits which the Jews would bring to the Beis HaMikdash, and shortly afterwards speaks of a covenant concerning the entire Torah (Deuteronomy 26:16)
What is the connection between these subjects?
The mitzvah of bikkurim was instituted to show that our gratitude for the good G-d has granted us (Rashi, gloss to Deuteronomy 26:3), and to display our appreciation to Him for “granting us all the blessings of this world.” (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 606) And this appreciation is not expressed merely by words of thanks, but through deed.
-Rabbi Eli Touger
Ki Savo commentary: “Entering Deeper and Deeper”
In the Garden of Torah
There’s a tendency among people of faith to separate their lives into the holy and the mundane. It is holy to pray in the morning before work, and it is mundane to commute to work. It is holy to worship in church or synagogue, but it is mundane and ordinary to have a meeting at work, have dinner with your family, volunteer at the food bank, and to give to charity. Yet we see in the example set in this week’s Torah Portion Ki Tavo that in the process of the bikkurim, there is an intimate connection between appreciating the gifts of the physical world and the loving providence of God.
The bikkurim is an illustration of the Jewish expression of appreciation to God for the gift of the Land of Israel and its bounty, but how else can such appreciation be expressed and experienced?
Our Sages teach (Bava Basra 9b): “A person who gives a coin to a poor person is granted six blessings; one who gratifies him is blessed elevenfold.” Now, gratifying does not necessarily mean giving more money. It means giving a positive feeling, showing the recipient that you care about him, and that he means something to you. When one so invests himself in another person, putting enough of himself into the stranger that the person feels appreciated, he has given something far greater than money. And so he receives a more ample blessing from G-d.
Our own sage, the “Maggid of Nazaret” teaches a similar lesson:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” –Mark 12:41-44
What is “value” in the eyes of God and “worth” in the economy of Heaven? It isn’t our ability to pay or to provide for others or even to God, but our intent, willingness, and expression in helping the unfortunate. A poor widow can donate a a very small amount (although it is great to her since it is all she has to live on) and have it be worth more than all of the gifts of the wealthy, even though what they give can feed multitudes of the impoverished.
To continue quoting from Rabbi Touger:
This leads to a deeper concept: Appreciation stems from involvement; the deeper the relationship between people, the more one appreciates the uniqueness of the other. When a person appreciates a colleague, he is motivated to do whatever he can for that other person.
These concepts apply, not only to our relationships with our fellow man, but also to our relationship with G-d.
What we do for others relates directly back to how we express our appreciation for all God has done for us. In fact, there is probably a closer connection between acts of charity to others and our appreciation of God than we might imagine:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ –Matthew 25:37-40
In Judaism, the first blessing offered to God, the Modeh Ani, is given before the person even gets out of bed, but it is performed while the person is not quite awake. Later in the day, observant Jews recite the Modim blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh, and offer a more complete expression of thanks, yet this is only part of offering our hearts to God. The physical acts of kindness to others and the illustration of the bikkurim are both tangible and concrete, yet representative of traveling into the greater depths of spiritual dimensions where prayers and blessings alone cannot take us. So even in giving to others as an expression of appreciating the life God gives to us, we also get something back; the opportunity to serve the table of the King.
Once the Chasam Sofer, zt”l, was riding in the same carriage as his rebbe, Rav Nosson Adler, zt”l. It was a very cold day and the Eastern European roads were filled with snow and slush. One wrong turn could land a person into a sticky quagmire from which he would not easily get out. During the first leg of the trip, the wagon driver managed to extricate them each time
the horses got stuck. Eventually, however, the horses enter a muddy pit from which they could not budge. Although they tried, they lacked the physical strength to get that wagon out of the mud.
After coaxing the team for an extended time, the wagon driver understood that his efforts were futile and that he needed help. He unhitched one of the horses and rode to a nearby town. After some time the wagon driver returned with reinforcements to remove the wagon. When Rav Nosson Adler saw them coming he left the wagon. He rushed out so quickly that he didn’t even put on his boots. In his silk socks he jumped down from the wagon and then—to the surprise of the Chasam Sofer—he began to dance. His face shone with a holy fire and he was obviously overjoyed.
The Chasam Sofer wondered what it was that had made his rebbe so happy that he spontaneously began to dance. “You know I spend most of my day in the beis midrash. I do as many mitzvos as I can, but there are many mitzvos which are virtually impossible for me to fulfill. One of these unusual mitzvos is to avoid kil’ayim.
“But now don’t you see? The wagon driver brought a team of oxen to help pull his wagon out of the mud. As a non-Jew, this is his right, but we are forbidden from sitting in the wagon while it is being towed out by a mixed team. If we would have sat in the wagon we would have violated the prohibition of kil’ayim. Now that I have finally merited to fulfill this rare mitzvah I feel filled with joy and cannot stop myself from dancing!”
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Mixed Team”
While this example of gratitude and appreciation may seem obscure and even nonsensical to someone without the benefit of a traditional Jewish religious education, if you take a moment to think about it, this is a story of a rare opportunity. Bringing the illustration back to the present, those opportunities that God gives us to serve others, even when they significantly interrupt our otherwise orderly and scheduled lives, are really opportunities for our benefit. Helping someone else not only benefits the other person, and it not only lets us bless God for all He has done for us, it is also the act of God blessing us by letting us be of further service to Him. In committing even the smallest act of repairing the world, God is giving us His loving compassion by repairing us, for there is no difference between helping another person, honoring God, and receiving God’s blessings on our soul.
In every person, there lie all souls that ever were and will be.
And so, just as every cell of the human being contains the blueprint of every other cell and of the entire person from the synapses of his brain to the swirls of his fingerprints, so every single person contains the entire humankind.
In this way, our Creator has rendered each of us the master of human destiny. In the liberation of any one of us lies the liberation of us all.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson