These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #1087 – Saying A Borei P’ri Ha’Adama On Fruit. Good Shabbos!
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Normally We Say, “Don’t Look at the Kankan” [Avos 4:20] But Not Here
The Torah says us that when a person brings the Bikkurim [First Fruits] to the Kohen “the Kohen shall take the basket from your hand and place it before the Altar of the L-rd, your G-d.” [Devorim 26:4] The Malbim points out that there were a number of rituals in the Bais HaMikdash [Temple] Service, for which keilim [receptacles] were necessary. Rarely, if ever, however, does the Torah speak about the Keili that is used to bring the offering. For example, in discussing the ritual of “zerikas hadam” [sprinkling the blood from a sacrifice on the altar], the Torah does not say, “you shall take the receptacle in which the blood was gathered and sprinkle the blood…,” it merely says, “you shall sprinkle the blood.” We would expect that here too the Torah should say, “the Kohen takes the Bikkurim from your hand.” Uncharacteristically, the Torah here focuses on the basket, rather than merely the contents of the basket!
The Malbim quotes the Sifrei: “From here we derive that the wealthy used to bring their First Fruits in keilim of silver and gold (which they took back after the Kohanim took the Bikkurim from them) and the poor used to bring the First Fruits in woven reed baskets (which the Kohanim kept).” According to the Malbim, based on this Sifrei, the reason the Torah emphasizes that the Bikkurim were brought in baskets is precisely for this reason — to teach us that (in the case of poor farmers who brought reed baskets) the Kohanim kept the basket along with the fruits.
The Malbim explains that the Sifrei derives this distinction between the rich and poor famer from the fact that when the Torah speaks about Bikkurim in parshas Mishpatim and parshas Ki Sisa there is no mention of baskets. It is only here in parshas Ki Savo that the basket is mentioned. The Sifrei concludes that our parsha is referring to a poor farmer who brings the fruit in a woven reed basket. In this case, the Kohen takes the basket from his hand (and keeps it). In Sefer Shemos, the Torah is referring to a rich farmer who brings his First Fruits up to Yerushalayim on a silver platter. There, the Kohen takes the fruit from him and the farmer keeps the fancy container.
The purpose of this “double standard”, the Malbim explains, is actually to the poor farmer’s merit (l’zakos es ha’ani). Most likely, the poor person wove the basket himself. The basket he makes with his own hands is more impressive for the Kohen than the rich farmer’s silver platter — to such an extent that it becomes part of the Bikkurim gift to the Kohen. Why? It is because the poor person put his blood, sweat, and tears into making that basket. Since he needed to ensure that the basket would be tahor [pure], he presumably made a new basket with his own hard labor and the basket now becomes an integral part of his Bikkurim offering. The woven reeds are infused with the same Kedusha [holiness] as the Bikkurim are.
True, the wealthy person paid a lot of money for the silver platter — but it is not the same. That which you put your personal time and effort into because it is the most you can afford takes on a special importance.
When my wife and I were first in Kollel, we were struggling financially. I remember that for some special occasion — a birthday or Mother’s day — my wife wanted to buy her mother a present. However, in those days, the money we had would not have bought more than a trivial item. Instead, my wife decided to make some kind of item for her mother — either knitting or embroidery, I do not remember the details. I do remember that it made a big impression on my mother-in-law. This is the best we could do. It was the most we could afford. But it was a beautiful hand crafted item that my wife made with love with her own hands. This is exactly what happens with the poor farmer and the basket. The rich farmer can go to a silver store and buy plenty of platters. However, the poor farmer, who knew he had to make a basket and spent time gathering the materials and working hard in shaping it — he probably even cut himself in making it — it was literally his blood, sweat, and tears. That takes on a special importance.
Therefore, Parshas Bikkurim is one of the rare places where the Torah talks about the keili in which the offering is brought.
A Sad Person Cannot Make Someone Else Happy
Parshas Ki Savo contains the parsha of Vidui Ma’aser [The “Confession” recited regarding one’s tithing obligations]. “I have not eaten of it in my intense mourning, I have not consumed it in a state of impurity, and I have not given it to a dead person…” [Devorim 26:14]. A Jewish farmer needs to give an accounting at the completion of the tithing cycle.
The seven year Shmittah cycle is composed of two three year “mini cycles” followed by the Sabbatical year. In each of the first two years of the “mini cycle,” the farmer must give ma’aser rishon [a first tithe] to the Levi and he must bring ma’aser sheni [a second tithe] to Yerushalayim and consume it there. In the third year of this cycle, ma’aser ani [a tithe given to the poor] replaces ma’aser sheni.
Following the completion of the three-year cycle, the farmer needs to make a statement declaring he has properly observed all the ma’aser requirements. He concludes the declaration with the words “…I have listened to the voice of Hashem, my G-d, I have acted according to everything You have commanded me.” Rashi interprets the words “I have acted according to everything You have commanded me” to mean I have rejoiced (samachti) and have brought joy to others with (seemachti) the ma’aser.”
Now we understand well what it means “I have brought joy to others (seemachti) with these tithes” — because the produce was given to those who were less fortunate — the Leviim and the poor. The Leviim did not have much money and the impoverished certainly did not have money either. Therefore, when they receive the gifts of ma’aser from the successful Jewish farmer, it brings them much joy. However, where do we find in the laws of ma’aser — even regarding ma’aser sheni (which is consumed by the farmer and his family themselves in Jerusalem) — that there is a requirement of simcha [joy]?
My son told me an interesting observation. In last week’s parsha (Ki Seitzei), we read “When a man marries a new wife he shall not go out to the army, nor shall it obligate him for any matter; he shall be free for his house for one year, and he shall gladden [v’seemach] his wife whom he has married.” This is the halacha that the first year after marriage, a newlywed does not go to war, he is charged to stay home — “and gladden his wife he has married” (v’seemach es ishto asher lakach).
The trop [cantillation] under the word v’seemach is a tipcha. A tipcha is the equivalent of a comma — it indicates a pause in the pasuk. This would seem to be inappropriate punctuation. We would assume that this is one statement: “He shall gladden the wife he has married.” There should be no pause in this pasuk. We would expect to see a mercha-tipcha cantillation and have the pasuk read as a single thought instructing the new husband to make his wife happy. Why the pause?
The answer could be that in order to make someone else happy, one has to be happy himself. Unhappy people cannot provide for others and make them happy. In order for a husband to gladden his new wife, he himself must be b’simcha [joyful]. Therefore, even though technically the word v’seemach means you should make others happy, the remez (nuance; hint) alluded to here by the cantillation is: First you be happy (pause) and then you can make someone else happy.
The halacha is, for instance, by Birkas Kohanim [the Priestly Benediction] that a Kohen who is not in a state of happiness (sharui b’simcha) cannot “duchen.” Why? It is because when one is dispensing blessing, he must be in a joyous state of mind. He must have a generosity of spirit in his heart before he can properly convey blessings to others.
This could be what Rashi means here in Parshas Ki Savo when he interprets the word “I have rejoiced” [samachti] as both samachti and seemachti. I have been joyful myself; therefore I was able to accomplish the true purpose of tithing — bringing joy to others through my gifts to them.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Ki Savo is provided below:
- CD# 021 The “Ins and Outs” of Mezzuzah
- CD# 066 Learning Hebrew: Mitzvah or Not?
- CD# 111 Allocating Your Tzedaka Dollar
- CD# 157 The Prohibition Against Erasing G-d’s Name
- CD# 204 Giving a Sefer Torah to a Non-Jew
- CD# 251 Shidduchim and Parental Wishes
- CD# 294 Geirim and Davening: Some Unique Problems
- CD# 340 The Pushka in Halacha
- CD# 384 The Prohibition of Chodosh
- CD# 428 Mentioning G-d’s Name in Vain
- CD# 472 Teffilin Shel Rosh
- CD# 516 Hagbeh
- CD# 560 Selichos
- CD# 604 Reading the Tochacha
- CD# 648 The Onain and Kaddish
- CD# 692 The Staggering Cost of Lashon Ho’rah
- CD# 736 Your Aliya: Must You Read Along?
- CD# 780 Can You Sue Your Father?
- CD# 824 Hitting An Older Child
- CD# 868 Loshon Horah Vs Lying – Which Is Worse?
- CD# 912 Shaimos What I Do With All Those Papers?
- CD# 956 The Phony Tzedakah Collector
- CD# 999 Can Your Mother Serve You Dinner?
- CD# 1043 Checking Mezzuzos: What Do You Do While They Are Down?
- CD# 1130 The Silent Shmoneh Esrei – Must It Be Silent
- CD# 1172 Can One Remove His Mezzuzos When Moving To A New Home?
- CD# 1216 Are Women Obligated in Yishuv Eretz Yisroel?
- CD# 1260 Mezzuzah – Case of No Case; Kissing the Mezzuzah – Good Idea or Not?
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