Parshas Ki Tavo
This week’s Parsha is full, and I do mean FULL of life lessons. But there is, if we pay close attention, one central theme that goes through the whole thing.
The Parsha opens with the mitzvos of Bikkurim (offering of the first fruits) and vyidui ma’asros. Both of these mitzvos are very similar in content, (which is why, seemingly, the Torah teaches them in proximity), as they both contain an aspect of viydui. What, you may ask, is viydui? Why “confession,” of course! Let’s try and understand what we are confessing.
The procedure by bikurim is as follows. A person goes for a walk in his fields or his orchard in which he is growing one of the seven species of fruits (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates). While walking, he notes that the fruit trees have begun to flower so he takes a ribbon and ties it around the first few fruits (or grains) that he sees, as a sign and says “These are bikurim.” When the fruits ripen, and the grains mature he then goes and harvests them and places them in a special basket (called a tenneh in the Torah) to bring to Jerusalem, to the Holy Temple. Bringing the fruit is not like, say, red riding hood skipping through the forest all by her lonesome. An entire procession is made wherein all of the peoples bringing the bikurim join together, with great rejoicing, and bring the first fruits to Jerusalem. They are met there by a band and are musically accompanied as the procession leads up to the Temple. The fruits are brought to the Cohen, who is officiating in the Temple that week, they are then handed over, during which hannafa (the waving of the offering up, down and in the four directions) jointly by the Cohen and the person who brought them. Then the Offerer recites a certain parsha from the Torah which contains in it a severely shortened form of Jewish history, including the slavery and exodus from Egypt, the travel in the desert and how HKB”H has fulfilled all of His promises, having settled the Jewish people in His land. After the offerer makes this declaration – he then places the basket down in front of the altar, prostrates himself before the Sanctuary and then the Torah says (Deuteronomy 26:11) vesamachta bechol hatov asher natan lecha HaShem, your G-d, (and you shall rejoice in all of the good that HaShem, your G-d, has given you…).
By viydui ma’asros the Torah says something similar. After we have fulfilled the commandments concerning ma’aser, the tithes that the Torah demands from every land-owner to give to the Cohen, the Levite and the poor. On the third year after the Shmitta year, having completed all of his responsibilities a person is then commanded to state publicly exactly that. I have done it. You have commanded me to do so, and I followed through.
Then the Torah says that the Jew is told to say “HaShem, my G-d, I have done all that You have commanded me. Look (upon us) from Your Holy Dwelling, from the Shomayim and bless your people Israel, and (also bless) the ground that You have given us, as You have promised to our forefathers, (it is a) land flowing with milk and honey”.
In both mitzvos, we recognize that all of our blessing and all of our prosperity is from HKB”H, who has been there for us forever. Throughout the generations, He has been there. He promised things to us in His holy Torah, and He has come through, as promised. But it’s not enough to just recognize it.
The Torah tells us that in addition to our personal recognition we also have to state this openly and publicly. We have to confess before G-d that this is true.
Only then can we achieve the rest of what the Torah tells us. Only then can we achieve vesamachta bechol hatov asher natan lecha HaShem, your G-d. “… and you shall rejoice in all of the good (bechol hatov) that HaShem, your G-d has given you”.
You see only a person who knows just how good he’s got it —is a genuinely happy person. But it’s not enough to know that you got it good. You have to know where it comes from and knows how to say “thank you” and mean it.
If I sit around all day thinking to myself “thanks, G-d” that’s something. But in a way, it’s the only kind of like sitting around all day and thinking “I love my wife/husband”, but never actually saying it to your spouse. Thinking “Thank you” is in no way the same as saying it.
But what happens if we don’t do so? Is it so bad if we don’t do the above mitzvos? What if I never verbalize my appreciation of all that HaShem has given me?
It appears to me that it is for this reason that these mitzvos are followed immediately in the Torah with the commandment concerning the voicing of the beracha (blessings) and the kelallah (curses) upon entering the land of Israel. Which is then followed by the prophecies of Moshe concerning the future blessings if we keep the Torah (Deuteronomy 28:1) versus the future tragedies that will occur if we don’t keep the Torah (Ibid. 28:15). In the tragedies that will (and did) befall us for not keeping the Torah the Torah addresses the reason why we are so deserving of these things when it says (Ibid 28:45-48):
“And all of these curses will come upon you… because you didn’t listen to the voice of HaShem, your G-d, … And they shall be upon you and your children forever as a sign and a wonder. (This is as) a result of you not doing the work of HaShem, your G-d, with rejoicing and happiness due to rov kol. Instead, you shall work for your enemies…”
Why do we deserve of all of the curses? Says the Torah because we missed the point of it all! Because we didn’t recognize how good our life was, and more importantly, how much good that HaShem, our G-d, was showering us with. We were too busy living the good life. We went through the motions of the service of HaShem – but that’s really all it was: the motions of service. The Torah never says that we ignored the service of HaShem. Just the opposite! We DID worship Him. But the main ingredient was missing. We got lost in all the stuff that we had, the stuff that was given to us as an aide in the service of HaShem, and we, therefore, served HaShem in only a perfunctory way. “Mark it off on the chart G-d! I did that prayer thing that you asked for. Can I get back to my real life now?”
The joy that comes from the recognition not only of what you got but also of from Whom you got it is supposed to make all of the difference in the world. What did I get the stuff for? To further aide me in my service of HaShem! But how did I look at it? “My stuff.” HaShem is keeping me from my stuff. Why is HaShem bothering me and keeping me from my, oh so abundant, stuff? What does He care? He doesn’t need it! But I just love it!
It’s this attitude that is the problem. It’s also not “my” stuff.
We didn’t worship HaShem with happiness and rejoicing because we were to enamored by the glitz and the glitter. We didn’t realize that we were given everything to live the most amazing life possible: a life of meaning and purpose. When every step or your day, from the moment that you open your eyes in the morning until you close them at night, is another step toward greatness and one more inch towards perfecting the world – how can you not rejoice? How can your day not be one of happiness and pleasure?
It’s because we are too busy enjoying our stuff. I would LOVE to get up and do that now, but it’s just so hard to leave my stuff. My bed is too soft, my la-z-boy to comfortable, the heat is just perfect, (or the air-conditioner is perfect), I have too much to do around my house/business, etc. … I lose myself in the lap of luxury. But what did I get it for in the first place? To allow me the comfort and peace of mind that I need to focus on what’s REALLY important in life.
It is very interesting to note that the words rov and kol are words that we find elsewhere in the Torah concerning stuff. In Genesis (33:9-11) the Torah tells us of the meeting of Ya’akov and Eisav (Issac and Esau) upon Yaakov’s return to the land. Ya’akov sends a very lavish gift to his brother, which Eisav receives before Ya’akov shows himself. After the initial greetings, Eisav inquiries from Ya’akov about the present. Eisav then politely refuses the present claiming “I have so much (rav), my brother, that which is yours should remain yours”. To which Ya’akov responds “Please take my offering from my hand, for HaShem has blessed me, and I have all (kol)(that I need)”. Eisav then takes the present.
Rashi there notes the difference in attitude between Ya’akov and Eisav. “Rav”, the word of Eisav, means “I have much, much more than I need” and is the language of ga’avah (haughtiness). This is the guy who lights his cigars with 100$ bills because “there’s a lot more where that came from”. Whereas Ya’akov says “I have everything I need (kol)”, meaning despite the fact that Ya’akov was also “filthy rich” he recognized that everything that he had was from HaShem and that every item in his household served a purpose. He had it all as everything had a purpose.
In the curses, the Torah says that we didn’t worship HaShem with happiness because of rov kol. Meaning that HaShem gave us kol, everything with purpose and meaning, but we changed that to rov, more than we need. We are opulent. We got the good stuff, and we eat it and drink it just for the sheer pleasure of the thing. Eventually, it takes a life of it’s own. It’s then that the avodas HaShem becomes bland.
What do we need to do to avoid this? Take stock. Recognize the goodness we have in our lives. Publicly acknowledge from Whom we got it, and to Whom we owe thanks for it.
It’s the only way that we can live a life of blessing rather than a life of curses.