Parshas Ki Savo; Birth Pains
The opening of our sedra this week discusses the mitzvah of bringing bikurim (1st fruits) up to the beis hamikdash. Whilst this mitzvah is taking place, the ‘bringer’ is commanded to read several psukim tracing our history back to the days of Lavan, Yetzias Mitzrayim, and then entry into the Land of Israel. In fact, these psukim are the ones that form the core of ‘maggid’ in the haggadah on seder night – that’s why they sound so familiar! There are 2 questions that can be asked here: Firstly, why read the whole long history about Lavan, etc at the time of bringing bikurim? And secondly, why are specifically these psukim read and expounded upon on seder night – why not select the psukim in Shemos for example, which are dealing directly with yetzias mitzrayim?

One should note that the start of the sedra (the opening 11 psukim which make up the 1st section) is a very ‘happy’ one. How? Since a prevalent theme is simcha. For example, it says clearly (26;11) “you shall be happy (‘vesamachta’) with all the good HaShem your G-D has given you…” and the opening word of the sedra ‘vehaya’ is an expression of simcha [R’ Elon] (more about that later.) Simcha as we once explained means long-term happiness and thus a feeling of accomplishment/success that accompanies the end of a long process. Thus, at the time of bikurim – the simcha of having worked hard for the produce/fruits to grow, we bring the first ones to HaShem in recognition that the simcha is being used to connect to Him, for He is its and the produce’s Source.

A central theme in seder night is what is termed maschil bignus imesayem bishvach ie we start with the bad and end with the good. This means that we start the haggadah with (psukim from this sedra) how Lavan tricked us, slavery (the bad times) and end with the Exodus and its miracles (the good times). This is not merely a clever organisational tool for chronologically ordering the haggadah, but tells the story of Jewish history on the whole, and is the reason that yetzias mitzrayim is the prototype example for future redemption. What it means is that things can look like they are going extremely badly to the brink of complete collapse and failure, and then suddenly things take a turn for the good. And the good did not come despite the bad, but rather it was a product of the bad. For example, yetzias mitzrayim is compared to a birth in that just like in a birth things are very painful yet it is those very same pains that create the joy of the birth, so too the bad and painful things in history cause and are steps in the good times. So too in the story of Joseph did the brothers see that the very ‘ruler’ who caused the brink of failure in claiming Binyamin, was in fact their brother and the source of their survival in Egypt. (R Tatz) This is why the pasuk says (we say it in hallel) odecha ki anisani vatehi li liyeshua (‘I praise You for you have afflicted me and have caused saviour for me’) – we praise HaShem for the fact that He afflicted us, for this we can see now caused the yeshuah. (R Ezriel) So too do we see this in the juxtaposition between 2 psukim in our sedra (26; 6-7) which say that the Egyptians put upon us extremely heavy work (6) and then we cried out to HaShem and He then saved us (7); again, it is those pains of intense slavery that caused the salvation. A similar thing has been said it explaining the opening of the shir hamaalos we say at the start of birkat hamazon on certain days. It says ‘when HaShem returns to Zion we were like dreamers, then our mouths will be full of laughter.’ Why does it say ‘we were dreaming’ in the past tense if the entire paragraph is referring to the future event of redemption? Since after the redemption comes, we will see that all the past pains were not really pains at all – they were steps necessary to bring about the redemption. And just like someone in a deep dream doesn’t feel physical pain (hence an anaesthetic) but can imagine pain in his dream, we will see that the previous pain that we felt was not really the pure pain that we thought it was – it was a step to redemption; and that is why we will be (spiritually) laughing fully. (R Neventzal and R Tatz)

This is the message in the bringing of the bikurim combined with the reading of these psukim – we realise that now we were brought into Eretz Yisrael, all those pains of slavery and Lavan’s tricks were all steps in order to bring us into the land as HaShem’s people with His Torah. When bringing bikurim and reaching that level of simcha we can now look back at this with hindsight and appreciate the process. However, 2 things are needed to realise this message; bitachon that HaShem will redeem us, and simcha. Bitachon is provided by the bikurim; in bringing one’s ‘own’ precious first fruits one is testifying that they belong to HaShem who created the world. And simcha is that long-term happiness and thus a realisation that the long-term is the main focus – the short-term pains do not hurt if they are for long-term good (think pregnancy!). This simcha is provided by the combination of the bikurim and the reading of its accompanying psukim.

Perhaps this can be used to understand a sharp contrast between 2 very similar words; ‘vehaya’ (meaning ‘it will be’) and ‘vayehi’ (meaning ‘it was’) [this part is very sweet…]
Chazal tell us that vayehi tends to introduce a bad event ; tzaar (gemara megillah 10b; see Rabbeinu Chananel there). For example, that’s how the megilla starts off. However, ‘vehaya’ is an expression of simcha (as in the opening of this week’s sedra). Why do these two words imply these 2 very different things? Each word is made up of a word and a Vav. For example, ‘haya’ alone (with no Vav) means ‘it was.’ The vav changes it to mean ‘and it will be’ (vehaya; future). Whilst ‘yehi’ means ‘it will be’ and the vav changes it to mean ‘and it was.’ A vav itself is a letter of connection between higher and lower world (it means ‘and’ – a connector). Now, we know that the future for the Jews will be bright; we are promised survival and the ultimate arrival of Moshiach. But we also know that there have been pains along the way; especially over the last century. The question is does one use those past pains to define the future, or does one use that future to change one’s perspective of those past pains. In other words, one can either say ‘it has been so painful, I do not believe that the future is really going to be good’ or one can say ‘I know that we’ve been promised that the future will be good, and thus I am realising that the past pains are necessary.’ The former approach is nothing but tzaar whilst the latter brings simchah. And this is the difference between the 2 words vehaya and vayehi. Vayehi denotes tzaar for it changes the future (yehi) into the past (vayehi) ie it uses the past to redefine the future perspective, whilst vehaya denotes simchah for it uses the future (vehaya) to redefine the past (haya) via that connection (the vav).
[note though that the gemarra megillah 10b seems to end that only vayehi with the word bimei following it connotes pain, but that does not change the above idea too much; bimei just means an acceptance of the present pain.]

Have a great Shabbes

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