Tag Archives: Ki Savo

Ki Tavo: Loving and Honoring God

BikkurimOur 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.

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.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Entering Deeper and Deeper”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tavo
Chabad.org

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

I’ve commented more than once that there is an inseparable relationship in the life of a believer between our relationship with other people and our relationship with God. We see here that not only does Jesus teach this lesson as the two most important commandments to learn and obey, but that both ancient and modern Judaism also cherishes this teaching. It resides at the heart of the Torah Portion for this week and should reside at the core who we are as people of God.

Rabbi Touger expands on his commentary and illuminates us further:

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. (Op. cit.: 16ff.)

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 Touger goes on to describe the deeds of ancient times, were to offer first fruits to God in deep appreciation for all that he bestowed upon the people of Israel, but that appreciation would be incomplete if we didn’t also offer gifts to our fellow human beings. I don’t mean just material goods, although these are important, but the gifts of compassion, mercy, kindness, and justice. From those gifts flow food for the hungry, comfort for the widow, provision for the bride, and spending time with the sick.

If we say we love God, how are we to express this today? Even a Jew cannot offer sacrifices without a Temple. As we approach the High Holidays, many Jews are giving abundantly to charity, offering impassioned prayers, and seeking to repair damaged relationships. In “offering” to God, we have no choice but to give to the people in need around us, for loving people is indeed loving God, just as He loves us.

If anyone truly intends to repent, either because of the approach of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or because of our imperative as Christians to continually repent before God through Jesus Christ, it would be foolish to imagine we didn’t have to repent and ask forgiveness of those we may have hurt with our careless words and actions.

But it goes beyond repentance and forgiveness and giving to charity. We have a perpetual responsibility to honor others as God honored Christ, for only in seeking the honor of our friend as if it were our own, can we truly become honorable before God and show the world that God deserves much great honor.

Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own.

-Ethics of the Fathers 2:15

Pride, honor, and acclaim have an attraction all their own, but our Sages warn us that these may be destructive (Ethics of the Fathers 4:28). The frustration people may experience when they feel they did not receive due recognition may be extremely distressing.

People who crave honor may sometimes attempt to achieve it by deflating others, thinking that their own image is enhanced when others are disparaged. The truth, however, is just the reverse: when one deflates another, one’s own image is diminished.

Rabbi Nechunya’s students asked him, “By what merits did you achieve long life?” He answered, “I never accepted any honor that was at another person’s expense.” As an example the Talmud tells that when Rav Chana Bar Chanilai visited Rabbi Huna, he wanted to relieve the latter of carrying a shovel on his shoulder. Rabbi Huna objected, saying, “Since it is not your custom to be seen carrying a shovel, you should not do so now” (Megillah 28a). Rav Chana was willing to forgo his own honor for Rabbi Huna’s sake, but Rabbi Huna would not hear of it.

Why does such an attitude merit long life? A person who is not preoccupied with his image, and is not obsessed with receiving honor and public recognition, is free of the emotional stress and frustration that plague those whose cravings for acclaim are bottomless pits. These stresses can be psychologically and physically devastating, and dispensing with them can indeed prolong life.

Aptly did Rabbi Elazar HaKappar say that honor drives a man out of this world (Ethics of the Fathers 4:28). One who pursues honors in this world mortally harms his chance for happiness.

Today I shall…

concentrate on being respectful to others, and avoid pursuing recognition from others.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 18”
Aish.com

Seek to show honor to God by honoring people in your midst, not just your friends or those who are like you, but the pauper, the outcast, the lonely, and misfit, for they are all Children of God, even as you are.

Good Shabbos.

Failure to Escape

PrisonRabbeinu Yonah, zt”l, teaches a lesson of teshuvah from a statement on today’s daf. “One who repeats one sin ten times has transgressed ten sins. We learn this from a nazir. A nazir gets a separate spate of lashes for every time he drank wine if the witnesses warned him before each drink.

“Even for a person who keeps the entire Torah, there is often at least one sin that he violates without much inhibition. He acts as though this sin is no sin at all. Even if this lax attitude extended to only one sin that would be serious enough. But most people have many areas that they do not take seriously. Some say the Name of heaven in vain. Others are not careful that their hands or the place they are in be clean before they say God’s Name. Some turn a blind eye to the poor, or one’s weakness may be slander, baseless hatred or arrogance. Or it may that he gazes at the forbidden. And laxness in the hardest mitzvah to fulfill properly is all too common: Torah study which counts like the entire Torah.

“It is therefore proper for every ba’al teshuvah to write down his flaws and mistakes and read this book every day. In that manner he will surely repent.”

Rabbeinu Yonah provides a famous parable on the importance of teshuvah. “This is likened to people who were jailed and managed to dig a tunnel out of their cell. Everyone escaped except one man. When the jailor noticed the tunnel and that everyone had escaped he began beating the man. ‘You fool! Why didn’t you take the opportunity and escape like everyone else?’”

When the Chiddushei HaRim, zt”l, quoted this Rabbeinuu Yonah he taught a brilliant lesson. “We see that failing to do teshuvah is worse than sinning in the first place!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Get Out of Jail”
Chullin 82

How interesting. If sin is putting yourself in jail, then teshuvah, the process of turning from sin back to God, is escaping from jail. We don’t normally consider a jailbreak in a positive, moral light, but think about it. If you are put in jail as the consequence of committing a crime, you wait passively. There is little or nothing you can do to secure your release except to wait for time to pass and your sentence to be up. You do not participate in your redemption in any way.

On the other hand, a jailbreak is an active process. It requires planning, gathering the right tools and, in some cases, organizing the different roles required for the escape with other people. You aren’t simply going to be released just because you’re waiting around. You actually have to do something about it. So it is with the process of repentence. So it is with the activity of making teshuvah. It won’t happen unless you take an active part.

But as in Rabbeinu Yonah’s parable, there will always be those people who, for whatever reason, continue to allow themselves to be imprisoned when they could have escaped and become free again. Failure to make amends, to repent, to turn from sin, and return to God is worse than the sin that landed you in jail in the first place.

But there’s more.

Both Passover and bringing of the first fruits are times when we must recognize our blessings and their origin. They say “there are no atheists in foxholes,” but foxholes are a lousy place to get religion! The Torah wants us to develop a connection with happiness and love, rather than fear. The curses found in this week’s reading only come about “because you did not serve HaShem your G-d with joy and a good heart, from an abundance of all.” [Deuteronomy 28:47]

-Rabbi Yaakov Menkin
Director, Project Genesis
Torah.org

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about the mystery of “joy”. About six months ago, I wrote something called Failing Joy 101. By nature, I’m not a continuously happy or joyous person. I don’t walk around with a smile on my face all the time. I don’t always approach the day with boundless enthusiasm. I even sometimes find people who really are cheerful all the time as kind of annoying. And yet we have this. Not only are we to stage a jailbreak when we are incarcerated within sin, but essentially, we’re to do so with a song of joy in our hearts.

And if we don’t, it’s a sin. It’s sin that gets us in jail in the first place. It’s sin that keeps us in jail when we could escape. And it’s sin, even when we escape, if we don’t do so joyfully.

I think I’m getting a headache.

Joyous enthusiasm is the child of inspiration. It is the emotional elixir that galvanizes, energizes, electrifies our lives. It empowers us to move mountains and make impossible dreams come true. Without joy, we plod mechanically toward our goals, seeking relief rather than fulfillment, but with joy we soar toward glittering mountaintops.

Clearly then, joy is a critical factor in our service of the Creator. It infuses every observance, every prayer, every moment of study with a divine energy that brings us that much closer to our Father in Heaven. One of the Chassidic masters once said, “Joy is not a commandment, but no commandment can accomplish what joy can.”

But what if a person cannot achieve joy? What if a person is overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life and is unable to free his spirit and let it soar? Surely, he does not deserve to be condemned and chastised for this failure. Surely, he should continue to serve the Creator to the best of his ability even if his efforts are less than inspired.

-Rabbi Naftali Reich
“The Little Voice”
Commentary on Parshas Ki Savo
Torah.org

DespairIt’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who thinks about these things. Rabbi Reich goes on to say, “Some commentators resolve this perplexing problem homiletically. They read the verse as follows, ‘Because you did not serve Hashem your Lord – with joy.’ It is not the absence of joy which is deserving of punishment but rather the presence of inappropriate joy.’

Let’s go back to the inmate who refused to escape from jail. Why wouldn’t he leave? Why stay in sin…unless he liked it there.

I don’t know if Rabbi Reich is reaching a little too far for a solution, but it is one that we could consider. As the Rabbi says, it’s “one thing to fall short in the service of Hashem, to fall victim to the weakness of the flesh. But it is quite another to revel in sinfulness, to delight in the saccharine juices of forbidden fruit.” So the absence of joy in our acts committed for the service of the Creator may not be desirable, that’s not where our sin lies.

A king was angry with his son for neglecting his princely duties. He decided to discipline him by banishing him incognito to a remote village.

When the prince arrived in the village of his banishment, he was mortified. The place was a collection of rude huts without the most basic comforts and refinements of polite society. There were no books or works of art for miles around. The people were vulgar and ignorant. The stench in the streets was overpowering.

A year passed, and the king began to reconsider his decree of banishment against the young prince. But first he sent spies to see how the prince was faring.

The spies arrived in the village, but it was a while before they located the prince sitting among a group of peasants in a barnyard. The once handsome and elegant young prince was filthy and dressed in vermin-infested rags. He was stuffing his face with half raw meat, the red juices running down his chin. Every few minutes, he would roar with laughter at one or another of the coarse peasant stories that were being bandied about. The spies immediately returned to the palace to report on what they had seen.

When the king heard their report, he wept. “If my son is happy among the peasants, he will never be a prince.”

The parable quoted from Rabbi Reich’s commentary tells the same story as Rabbeinu Yonah’s parable. Two men were sentenced to isolation from the world of faith and hope for a certain time. The intent was to teach them, in their misery, that they should desire to return to their former lives and learn appreciation for what was temporarily denied them. Instead, we find that the opposite happened. Both men learned to become accustomed to their life of depravity and sinfulness. I suspect both men lost hope because without hope, there can never be joy.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:12-13

I suspect that Paul could write these words with sincerity because he had hope in Jesus. It was a hope that transcended circumstances and became interwoven with the very fabric of his being. It is a hope that only true trust and faith in God can create and nurture. Knowing God exists provides a certain amount of comfort. Having absolute trust in Him, regardless of your situation is where one discovers faith, hope, and finally, joy.

While we are expected to somehow just “have” these treasures, they don’t simply lie along the common path, like wildflowers growing out of the gravel. Digging an escape tunnel doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of effort. So, for at least some of us, does the search for the fruits of the spirit.

If we have no joy in our hearts, we deny the love of God. We should not say, “Our heart is the dwelling place of lust, jealousy, anger; there is no hope for us.” Let us realize that we have another guest in us who desires to give us life and joy, notwithstanding our sin.

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

There’s another reason why the prisoner might choose not to escape; not due to any attraction to or love of sin, but because of the futility of hoping that any escape would be permanent or even long lived. Perhaps the son of David was right after all.

The road

The road is long and often, we travel in the dark.

Ki Tavo: Blessings of the Soul

BikkurimOne 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
Chabad.org

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

HomelessIn 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”
Chullin 79

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.

After all, humanShabbat candles consciousness began in a single being, with a single breath of G‑d within that being.

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
“Any Soul”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Good Shabbos.