Parshas Ki Savo
Parshas Ki Savo
Contemplation: The Key To Success
ושמרתם את דברי הברית הזאת ועשיתם אותם למען תשכילו את כל אשר תעשון (כט:ח).
“You shall guard the words of the covenant to fulfill it in order that you will be enlightened as to the proper course of action” (29:8).
This verse contains the key in how to succeed in life! Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (Sefer Aley Shur) expounds upon this verse and quotes the Targum Yonosson who translates it as, “contemplate and think about the actions which you take!”
To See and To Think
The wise King Shlomo tells us how to view the world. Mishlei (24:30) states “I passed by the field of a lazy man… and it was dilapidated and not cared for… I saw this sight with my heart and I learned a lesson about alacrity!” A mature person contemplates and learns from what his eyes behold! Rashi at the beginning of Sefer Vayikrah asks a fundamental question. Why are there so many spaces in the Torah between all of the different laws that Hashem taught Moshe? He explains that these spaces represent the fact that Hashem gave Moshe time to digest and contemplate each lesson that he was taught, before teaching him the next one. If this was necessary for Torah being transmitted from Hashem, the best teacher, to Moshe, the best student, surely we would benefit from contemplation as well!
A great Rabbi once asked the Ketzos HaChoshen (Rabbi Aryeh Leib Heller, 1745 – 1813), “why are your Seforim more sought after and popular than mine? “I will tell you the difference between us”, replied the Ketzos, “when you sit down to learn, you carry on building upon where you left off yesterday. When I begin my learning, I throw out everything I concluded yesterday and think it all through again from scratch!” He didn’t want to be blinded by his own previous conclusions! He wanted to contemplate and digest everything properly.
The Rock and The Person
Chazal (Avos D’Rebbe Nosson 6) tell us that for the first 40 years of Rebbe Akiva’s life he was a complete ignoramus. One day he was walking on the riverbank and noticed a rock which had a hole pierced in it through which the water was flowing. He contemplated the sight wondering how the soft water could have accomplish such a feat! Then it hit him with shock and power. The soft water consistently running over the rock every day, eventually wore out the rock’s strength and caused the hole to be created! A simple scientific observation called friction! But his greatness was that he did not just stop there, he now applied the lesson as a model for his own life. If the rock could perform such a feat, then surely Torah could slowly penetrate my heart of stone as well! With this, Rebbe Akiva began his long journey to greatness in the Torah world. He didn’t just see, he observed and learned! King Shlomo again sums up this important idea for those who want to succeed in life. Mishlei (1:5) states, “the wise man hears and delves and develops things further!”
והיה כי תבוא אל הארץ …ולקחת מראשית כל פרי האדמה (כו:א-ב).
“When you enter the Land…. separate your first crops [for Hashem]….”
The Torah places great emphasis on the Mitzvah of Be’kurim. As soon as the Jews entered the land the first Mitzvah commanded here was to separate the first fruit. What is the significance? Also, when the Be’kurim are delivered to the Kohen, the donator declares an entire narrative about how Lavan tried to kill Yaakov, what is this all about? More so, those exact words are read in the Pesach Haggadah; what makes them so significant?
The Ramban states that there is a specific Mitzvah to bring the Be’Kurim into one’s house and then to eventually bring them to Yerushalayim. What is this all about? Why can’t they just be left on the tree or in the field until they are brought?
This act of donating the first of one’s crops was very difficult. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that for a farmer that worked hard and toiled upon the land, it would be very difficult for him to be pulled away from the first crops that finally blossomed and showed him success. Never-the-less, we specifically dedicate those crops to Hashem to show our love and recognition that He is the provider of the bounty which we enjoy.
Hence, explains the Emunas Yirmiyah, this is why we specifically bring it into our houses. We should ensure that out children see and learn what we are doing! We must demonstrate to them in a most powerful and real way just how much we love Hashem. The children will ask, “why were the first fruits set aside”? We will them teach them that we are thereby thanking Hashem for His kindness.
Now we understand the significance of Be’kurim. The Torah stresses that as soon as one starts a home (in Eretz Yisrael), the focus is upon instilling the vibrant feelings of love between us and Hashem. A Jewish home is built upon a love and passion for Hashem.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains that Lavan tried to kill Yaakov by undermining this exact theme. Lavan wished to negatively influence the children of Yaakov. He wished to cool them down from their service of Hashem and to distract them from seeing Hashem’s kindness. Lavan lived a life of ignoring Hashem and acting according to his own desires. This is precisely what the Be’kurim came to fight against. This is why we mention the negativity of Lavan when presenting the Kohen with our fruits. This also explains why we read these verses over Pesach. The entire theme of the Pesach Seder is to recognize and feel Hashem’s care and love for us. Thus, Be’kurim is a powerful message of this. When we contemplate all of the great things that Hashem gives us, our hearts sing out in joy and we just want to share that recognition with others!
Follow The Leader
One of the most fundamental directives of Jewish behavior is found in this week’s Parsha. “והלכת בדרכיו, you shall follow in Hashem’s ways”. This directive is at times very hard to live by, yet is a tremendously great Mitzvah to carry out. The actions that we take are seen in a new light of verification. “Is this the way that our Kind Father in Heaven would act”? This is a clear and powerful perspective. One who practices this outlook will be profoundly affected by it.
In our Parsha Hashem commanded the Jews that when they would enter Eretz Yisrael they should divide into two groups and the Levi’im should face Har Gerizim and say the Brachos and then turn toward Har Eival and say the Klalos. What is odd, says Rav Moshe Feinstein, is that the Torah tells us that they should build an Altar on Har Eival and joyously celebrate and eat a Korban Shlomim. Shouldn’t this be done on Har Gerizim, the mountain where they received the blessings and not on the mountain of the Klalos?
He answers that it is the fear of punishment that keeps us away from aveiros. The promise of reward may not help if the Yetzer Hara can convince us that the joy of the aveira is more worthwhile than the reward for avoiding aveiros. Accordingly it is the Klalos that drive us to fulfill our destiny. Therefore if we need to choose a mountain to celebrate on, it is the mountain where we receive the Klalos.
We learn in our parsha that when bringing the bikurim, first fruits, to the Beis Hamikdash, the farmer says a specific vidoy, confession. He states (Devarim 26:5), “Arami oved avi, the trickster (Lavan) tried to fool our father (Yaakov) and he ended up going down to Egypt.” Firstly, why is this called a confession? Secondly, when did Lavan try to kill Yaakov and what does this have to do with bikurim? Thirdly, why do we not mention Lavan’s actual name?
The Good Life
The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz zt”l, 1550 – 1619) explains a most profound insight based on these compelling questions. He states that the Midrash tells us that Aram Naharayim was a city in which prosperity reigned as well as hedonistic indulgence and perversion. The city was filled with people who pursued earthly pleasures while shunning the spiritually valuable pursuits. The Matriarchs came from Aram and were not swayed by the materialistic influences. They understood that life had a deeper purpose revolving around service of Hashem and Torah and mitzvos. The people of Aram believed in taking it easy and living it up in a most physical way. This is the antithesis of the Jewish way. We are taught that we are here in this world to serve Hashem and to work hard to accomplish. The Matriarchs appreciated wealth and bounty as a means with which to serve Hashem by sharing with others and creating a kiddush Hashem. They were careful not to get pulled into Aram’s perspective which appreciated comfort, indulgence and security as an end unto itself without any moral obligations or responsibilities.
After spending twenty years with Lavan and amassing his fortune Yaakov was ready to take it easy as well. Bereishis Rabbah (84:1) states that Yaakov wanted to dwell in comfort. Hashem saw that there was a twinge of outside influence evoked there and thus sent the challenge of Yosef being hated by the brothers and being sold down to Egypt. This eventually led to the Jews all immigrating to Egypt and ultimately being enslaved there. Kli Yakar explains that Yaakov’s mistake came from being influenced by Lavan who lived in Aram.
Hence, Lavan and all that he stands for which is the bounty and turning away from Hashem represented by the city of Aram is a constant challenge faced by the Jews of all generations. Thus, when the Jewish people harvested their crops they brought up the nicest fruits of their bounty as a tribute to Hashem. They dedicated their produce to Hashem and to performing mitzvos with it. The vidoy, confession, is an expression in which the Jews turn their focus away from physicality and focus on spiritual ideals. Lavan is called by the name Arami which has a double meaning. It refers to his trickery but even deeper, it refers to the hedonistic city of Aram which was the antithesis of the Jewish goal. After coming into Eretz Yisrael and partaking of its beautiful fruits, the Jews worked hard to ensure that they would deeply commit themselves to the service of Hashem. They would bring their bikurim as an expression of thanks and servitude to Him for blessing them with bounty and good.
Mind Body and Soul
The parsha is packed with a large array of laws. One of them is where the Jews are instructed to (Devarim 25:17): “Remember what Amelek did to you…. don’t forget.” Why is there a double expression of both ‘remember’ and ‘don’t forget’? Chazel tell us (Megillah 18a) that ‘remember’ means verbally; ‘don’t forget’ means in the heart. What does this mean? Are we not meant to simply remember in our minds?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895 – 1986) addresses these questions. He explains that we must understand what Amelek did wrong. The Jews left Egypt after a one year display of the most fantastic and awe-inspiring Ten Plagues that the world had ever seen. The nations watched as Hashem split the sea and brought the Jews to safety and security while the Egyptian tormentors were executed and punished. The world shook at the thought of the Jews (See Shemos 15:14). Amalek as a nation could not bear to watch Hashem and His nation at such an exalted and elevated level. They attacked the Jews as a means to lower the Jew’s and Hashem’s status in the world. Although they knew that they were committing suicide by attacking, they were willing to give up their lives to desecrate and profane Hashem’s name. This is exactly why Hashem punished them with extinction. Amalek represents the forces of evil that attack as a means to deny Hashem and truth. They have no merit of existence.
Rabbi Feinstein explains that the Torah is teaching us that we must remember and feel in a most intimate way the sin that Amalek committed. Just as a child will never forget if someone evil embarrassed his father or mother in public, the emotions are too strong and last forever, so too, the Jewish nation can never forget the terrible and brazen act of Amalek. The Jewish heart, mind and mouth will recount the episode with passion and feeling and a sense of the justice that must be carried out to defend Hashem’s honor.
Hashem gave us the Torah and mitzvos and we serve Him with all of our heart and soul. The Torah teaches us the wisdom of Hashem and it also instills in us lessons of serving Hashem with our emotions and feelings. We stand for the honor of Torah and we verbally and emotionally express the fact that Amelek and what they stand for is not allowed to exist. We invest our efforts into Torah study and actions in a way that our commitment and love of Hashem is palpable. A home that revolves around emotional and verbal connection to Torah is one where true love and joy are found.