Parshas Ki Savo
Parshas Ki Savo - What's In A Smile...
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
This is that "other" parsha I mentioned back in Parashas BeChukosai.
Parashas BeChukosai was Moshe telling over to the Jewish people what G-d
said would be the curses for straying from Torah. This week's parsha, Ki
Savo, is Moshe's own repetition of those curses.
However, before the Torah turns to the section dealing with the blessings
and the curses, it begins with the mitzvah of Bikurim, the mitzvah of the
When you come into the land which G-d, your G-d is giving to you as an
inheritance, and you inherit and settle it, take from the first of all
your produce of the ground. Bring from your land which G-d, your G-d, has
given to you and place it in a basket, and go to the place which G-d, your
G-d, will choose to establish His name. Come to the priest of that time and
say to him, "I profess this day to G-d, Your G-d, that I came to the land
which G-d promised to your fathers to give" ... and say, "An Aramean
destroyed my father..." (Devarim 26:1-5)
Like all mitzvos dealing with agriculture the mitzvah of Bikurim reminds us
of the Source of all the bounty in our lives. However, what is particularly
interesting about this specific agricultural mitzvah is the "viduy"
(confession) said upon bringing the First-Fruits to the kohen; within it
there is an obscure reference to a certain "Arami" who tried to kill our
The list of anti-Semites throughout Jewish history is extremely long.
However, as the Torah stresses, it is the nation of Amalek that is the
ultimate nemesis of the Jewish people. Yet, the focus of the viduy and the
reason for gratefulness at the time of offering the First-Fruits was not
the salvation from the hands of Amalek. In this viduy, we are grateful for
salvation from Ya'akov's uncle and father-in-law, Lavan the Aramean. Why?
The answer is mentioned in the Haggadah shel Pesach, where we talk about
how Lavan wished to obliterate the Jewish people by eliminating Ya'akov.
Whereas Paroah decreed only against the male children, the Haggadah says,
Lavan wanted to exterminate us altogether.
But where in the Torah do we see this? The only account of Lavan actually
"attacking" the Jewish people is after Ya'akov "stole" away from Lavan
while the latter was away from home tending to business. Upon hearing the
news of Ya'akov's secret departure, Lavan pursued Ya'akov with a vengeance.
In fact, Lavan declared to Ya'akov upon reaching him that had not G-d
interceded on Ya'akov's behalf, Lavan would have killed him (with
fathers-in-law like that, who needs enemies?).
However, that was certainly not the first or last time someone pursued the
Jewish people with thoughts of wiping them out. Why then is Lavan looked
upon as being the overriding threat to the Jewish people, more than anyone
Lavan's own words provide the key:
"Why did you flee from me in secret, robbing me, not telling me [and
thereby] preventing me from being able to send you away in joy, and with
songs of the tabret and harp? You prevented me from kissing my sons and
daughters!" (Bereishis 31:27)
Though Lavan's complaint may have been valid on some level, it certainly
was not justification to kill or even harm his son-in-law. Unless, of
course, Lavan had no need for Ya'akov, only for Ya'akov's children. After
all, the Torah reveals, Lavan looked at his grandchildren as if they were
his own children:
Lavan answered, "These daughters are my daughters, and these children are
my children..." (Bereishis 31:43)
No they weren't! They were Ya'akov's children, the future Jewish people.
More importantly, they were the essence of Ya'akov's struggle for
completion, without which all that Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov strove to
achieve would have disappeared. It is to this that Ya'akov alluded even
before the first tribe was born:
He took two stones in his hand and said, "If these two stones become
attached as one then I know that there is no refuse to issue from me ..."
(Bereishis Rabbah 68:11)
It was through his children that Ya'akov hoped to implement the unity he
himself had achieved. It was Avraham's, and then Yitzchak's
single-mindedness to remain moral within an immoral society that warranted
G-d choosing them as His own. And just like Ya'akov represented the
continuity of that morality to Yitzchak, Ya'akov's own children represented
that continuity to him.
This is not the only place in the Torah where we learn about unity through
children. The Torah tells us that "a man is to leave his mother and father
and cleave to his wife," to whom he was previously a stranger. Through
marriage they are supposed to achieve a unity that makes them like "one
However, can two flesh-and-blood beings literally become one? Thus Rashi
One flesh ... both parents are united through their children.
Children are a genetic combination of both parents, a literal expression of
the unity the parents are meant to achieve. However, on a higher level, the
birth of children also represents an even greater unification, that of
husband, wife and G-d. For, as the Talmud relates, every child is the
result of a three-way partnership between G-d, man and woman.
For this reason, a child represents even more. A child is the embodiment of
the values of the three: man, woman and G-d. What is important to note is
that the child himself is the fourth element. This understanding will yield
deep insight into the mitzvah and message of the fruits of the fourth year.
Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov were the Forefathers of the Jewish people,
but they were not the Jewish people themselves. It was their descendants,
the Twelve Tribes, who became the basis of the Jewish nation. Applying this
concept of three elements producing a fourth element that embodies the
awareness of the three, the children of Ya'akov represented the synthesis
of all three fathers.
When it comes to the mitzvah of the First-Fruits, there are four mitzvos
involved (Ohr HaChaim, Devarim 26:1). They are: knowing that Eretz Yisroel
is a gift for accepting G-d as our G-d, knowing that the land was given to
us as inheritance to be shared with no other nation, settling the land of
Israel, and the actual bringing up of the First-Fruits. However, as much as
the four are a unit, it is really the first three that give rise to the
last part of the mitzvah, the bringing up of the fruit.
Bikurim, the fruit itself is the unified expression of the first three
mitzvos, just as a child is the unified expression of the partnership of
G-d, man, and woman. Children represent the commitment to produce that
which can receive and carry the spiritual "baton" of previous generations
and pass it on to the next. So, too, the Bikurim represented this very same
commitment because of its connection to the "fourth element," its
connection to the land of Israel (a symbol of Jewish continuity and
commitment), and its reference to salvation from Lavan who plotted to
destroy that continuity.
It is this commitment that Lavan tried to uproot. This is why he is the
subject of the viduy. Lavan's attachment to his grandchildren was more than
a matter of blood relationship. Lavan understood that the twelve tribes
represented the embodiment of all that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov
strove to teach mankind about G-d's existence. Allowing the tribes to
remain that way gave the world the potential to be a place in which
ultimately there would be no room for people like Lavan. Capturing the
imagination of the sons of Ya'akov and changing the way they perceived the
world was crucial for Lavan's own survival.
Thus the mitzvah of Bikurim represents more than gratitude for the bounty
of the land; it is a sign of Jewish commitment to bring order to a world
whose natural course is one of chaos. It is the idea of synthesizing the
various elements of creation into a wonderful unity that represents the
fulfilled purpose for creation.
As the Ohr HaChaim also points out, this week's parsha begins with the
"language of joy." As the Talmud states (Megillah 10a), when the word
"ha-yah" ("when it will come to be ...") is employed, it is a reference to
a joyous event, in this case, the bringing up of Bikurim. As the Talmud
describes, the bringing up to the Temple of the First-Fruits was a cause
for great ceremony and celebration.
But why, in a parsha that is going to discuss the curses (anything but a
cause for joy), do we start with a mitzvah of joy?
The Torah itself answers this question with a startling revelation at the
end of the curses. The Torah sums up the long list of horrifying
consequences for straying from Torah by saying:
... And it will come to be that you and your descendants will be a sign and
a source of wonder forever, all because you didn't serve G-d, Your G-d, in
joy and goodness of heart... (Devarim 28:47)
Because we didn't serve G-d with joy? All of that happened to us because we
didn't show our appreciation for the good G-d gave to us while we had it?
All of these curses ... even the ones which sound frighteningly like
pogroms and the Holocaust ... happened because of an attitude problem?
Disobedience is one thing, but how does a lack appreciation result in so
much suffering and destruction?
The answer to this question is a sad, historical fact. There is an
expression in the world of psychology: sad children make angry, rebellious
adults. In other words, today's sadness is tomorrow's delinquency; children
that have negative dispositions often grow up and carry those attitudes
into their adulthood, which find negative expression in their everyday
lives. This is what G-d warned Kayin back at the beginning of history:
... To Kayin and his offering, [G-d] did not show favor; Kayin became very
angry and depressed. G-d told him, "Why are you angry and depressed? If you
do good, will I not reward you? However, if you don't do good,
transgression crouches at your door and desires you; it will control you."
The end result of Kayin's depression? Murder.
Human beings do not like to remain sad or depressed for long periods of
time, if at all. Sadness and depression is counterproductive, and makes for
lousy company. There are many ways to deal with such negative emotions: see
a therapist, take a vacation, or ... or eliminate the source of that
In the case of Kayin, that meant murdering his brother, Hevel. In the case
of the Jewish people, that has usually translated into forsaking Torah for
other, less "burdensome" lifestyles. But that, unfortunately, is even more
counterproductive with respect to the purpose of creation, and therefore
totally unacceptable to G-d.
Furthermore, as the Nefesh HaChaim points out, G-d "mirrors" us. If we act
depressed and downtrodden, then that is the way He acts toward us.
Certainly this makes for a very depressing world, and one ripe for the
impact of the negative forces and drives of creation, which fester in the
darkness and gloom of negative emotions.
And guess who gets it the worse in the end? Us, it seems.
Thus, the root of all straying from Torah is not because someone proved the
unprovable, that Torah is not of Sinaitic origin, or that G-d doesn't
exist. Forsaking Torah, we are warned in this week's parsha, is the result
of discontentment, and it is this that forces the person or people to look
for reasons why Torah is not valid. Like Kayin killed Hevel to solve his
depression, historically, Jews have often tried to "kill" Torah to solve
... Therefore, the real commandment incumbent upon every Jew is to find the
joy of keeping Torah; it is this that will make Torah the "labor of love"
we spoke about in Parashas Aikev. Indeed, Dovid HaMelech wrote:
Serve G-d with joy! (Tehillim 100)
In order to understand how to do this, one must first appreciate the
difference between simcha (joy) and oneg (pleasure). The difference between
the two is fundamental: oneg is physical pleasure, and simcha is the
pleasure than results from achieving a certain intellectual awareness.
This is why a person, who detests the taste of meat, does not have to eat
meat on Shabbos if he doesn't want to. Since Shabbos is a time of oneg, of
physical pleasure to enrich the spiritual experience, enjoying oneself
physically is an integral part of properly experiencing Shabbos. On the
other hand, on a Yom Tov, such as Sukkos, one should eat some meat and
drink some wine, whether they enjoy such food or not. This is because Yom
Tovim are days of simcha.
But wherein lies the simcha in eating food that one does not enjoy? The
answer is that we eat meat and drink wine, not because they make our meals
fancier, but because they remind us of how, in Temple times, we used to
offer sacrifices and drink-offerings to bring ourselves closer to G-d.
Eating the meat and drinking the wine is a way of breaking through the
boundaries of time and re-experiencing on another level of consciousness
what once was, and will one day be possible in terms of closeness to G-d.
That is the true source of joy.
Therefore, the Torah has warned us: If living by Torah and mitzvos is
joyless for you, then watch out!! You are on a slide down to spiritual
oblivion, and the consequences of such spiritual void. If you lack simcha
in serving G-d, then seek out a deeper awareness of Torah and mitzvos, and
search for a higher level of Torah consciousness. That is where you will
find true and lasting joy, and salvation from destruction. This too is
implied by the mitzvah of Bikurim, a mitzvah of simcha.
The Talmud (Avodah Zara 17a) discusses the story of Rebi Elazar ben Durdia,
a real Ba'al Tshuva. As the story goes, he was a tremendous sinner, until
one day, a spirit of reality hit him and he realized how self-destructive
his ways had been. Immediately, the Talmud says, he went and sat among the
mountains and began seeking G-d's forgiveness.
To make a long and beautiful story short, his intense effort to return to
truth cost him his life. He put so much into his tshuva that his soul was
taken from him and he died. However, this was not a sad ending, for his
tshuva was accepted and he went to the World-to-Come.
Until that point in the story, nothing is that strange. What adds a kind of
strange twist to the story is Rebi Yehuda HaNasi's ("Rebi") response: he
cried, and then said, "There are some who acquire their portion in the
World-to-Come only after an entire lifetime, and yet, there are those, like
Rebi Elazar ben Durdia, who acquire their portion in a moment."
Rebi wasn't bemoaning the fact that Rebi Elazar ben Durdia had gotten off
lightly (after a lifetime of sinning yet!!). What glory is there in be a
transgressor? No, rather, what Rebi was complaining about was the
realization of how powerful the potential of a moment is. Most people take
a lifetime to earn their "portion" of eternity because they squander the
potential of the countless moments that make up their entire lives.
For Elazar ben Durdia, it was a do-or-die situation-forever. He only had
moments to right the wrong, and therefore, he put everything he had into
his tshuva. We, on the other hand, often feel that we have eternity left to
live ... plenty of time to still make the most of life. That, perhaps, is
the biggest mistake one can possibly make.
This is why elsewhere, the Talmud states, "Do tshuva one day before you
die." The obvious question is asked: who knows the die of his death in
advance? The Talmud's answer: Exactly. Therefore, make the best of each and
every moment as if it's the last one you'll ever live. This way, you'll
impress G-d and His Heavenly Court on that awesome day of judgment: Rosh