Parashas Ki Savo – Appreciating our Fruitful History
This week we have parashas Ki Savo which gives over more preparatory mitzvahs to the nation who are on the verge of entering Eretz Yisrael. Amongst these mitzvahs are those of the בכורים/bikkurim, which was the bringing of the first fruits and also the very interesting commandment for the elders of the people to inscribe the entire Torah on twelve huge stones which were to be placed on Mount Ebal. Mount Ebal together with Mount Gerizim was then the scene for the famous declarations of the blessings and curses which make up the majority of the rest of the sedra which are rich in prophecy and detail on the future of the Jewish people. Parashas Ki Savo then concludes with the beginning of Moshe's final charge to the people which takes up most of the remainder of the Torah .

According to the Or HaChaim the opening line of Parashas Ki Savo contains no less than four positive commandments. We are told to enter and accept Eretz Yisrael as our land, to conquer it through the defeat of the Canaanite nations in battle, to dwell in it and finally to then bring these first fruits. Chazal derive from this opening possuk that this commandment to bring the first fruits only applies to the seven species (them being wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates) for which the Land is praised. The Or HaChaim also points out that the opening word of the sedra 'והיה/ve'haya' implies simcha and therefore the bringing of these bikkurim was a time of much joy and happiness which had to be between Shavuos and Succos. This implication of simcha is also seen in the later possuk of... “You shall rejoice with all the goodness that Hashem has given you...” [26:11]. So what did this process of the bringing of the first fruits involve? We are taught that 1/60th of the produce of these species is to be brought as bikkurim, with the Torah specifically stating that... “you shall place it in a basket” [26:2]. If we take the word used by the Torah here for this basket...a 'טנא/tene', we can see that this 1/60th amount is alluded to in the gematria of this word, which happens to be 60 (ט=9 ,נ=50 ,א=1). The person bringing the bikkurim is then told to go to the Kohen and say... “I declare today to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the Land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us” [26:3]. With closer analysis there seems to be a distinct problem with this declaration however... where is the actual declaration? When reading back this apparent declaration there doesn't seem to be one present, rather a statement that the person has come to Eretz Yisrael. According to our mefarshim that is exactly the point... The person saying these words has just arrived in Jerusalem after what could have been a long and treacherous journey, he has his first fruits in his hands and he goes up to the Kohen saying... “I declare today to Hashem, your G-d, that I have come to the Land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us”... by just being there he is making quite the declaration of both appreciation for Hashem and also his avodas Hashem, with the great lengths he is willing to go to, in order to serve him. We learn an important lesson from this, that in life there is no better way to declare yourself than to act. As the famous phrase goes, 'put your money where your mouth is', it is very easy for people to talk but not always as simple when it comes to acting on it. I have heard many a Yeshivah bocha declare how frum he is and how he feels very spiritual and thinks about G-d all the time... those same bochas are usually the ones sleeping in and not always being too meticulous in their avodas Hashem. The ones who are really making a declaration are those who get up early and spend most their day in the Beis HaMidrash... there is no verbal declarations necessary for those bochas!

The final stage of the bringing of the bikkurim is the main part and that is the reading out of a thanksgiving parasha to Hashem which the Sifre highlights to be the passage that forms a major part of the Pesach Haggadah. This recital includes a brief sketch of Jewish history, with the effect of which is to show that the Land could never have been given to the Jewish people without G-d's loving intervention throughout history. The first piece of history which is recited in this passage is that of... “An Armenian tried to destroy my forefather” [26:5] which is of course, with the help of Rashi, the conniving Lavan who tried to decieve Yaakov in terrible ways and eventually pursued him with the intention of killing him... Hashem then revealed himself in a dream to Lavan there to prevent this from happening. So what is the relevance of this opening piece of information which is to be stated in this recital? Why not start with Avraham or even the first man, Adam? Every Pesach we read the famous statement of... “in every generation they rise against us to annihilate us”, what we see by Yaakov was the first Jewish congregation with himself and his family all G-d fearing people. What happens with the first ever generation of Jews then? Someone tries to rise up against us and destroy us... that being Lavan. We also see that Hashem was there to miraculously prevent such a happening through His revelation of warning to Lavan. We therefore see with this opening line of the statement that right from the start we are thanking Hashem for the survival of the Jewish people with our existence at a constant threat throughout history since the first generation of Jews. This recital over the bikkurim then goes on to describe how Yaakov and the first generation went down to Egypt, with the Torah using the language of “במתי מעט/few in number”... it is brought down by the Vilna Gaon that the word “me'ut/מעט/few” has in itself allusions to our history in Egypt... If we go all the way back to Parashas Shemos we see that it was 70 who originally went down to Egypt. If we also think back to the commentaries from this Parashas Shemos and our Pesach seders, we will also remember that before we were taken out of Egypt the Jewish nation had slumped to the 49th level of impurity, 1 short of being fully assimilated both physically and spiritually into Egyptian society. Now if we take the word “מעט/few”, we see that the middle letter is an ע... which has the gematria of 70, implying the 70 who went down to Egypt originally. We also see that the other two letter on either side of the “ע ” are a “מ” which has the gematria of 40 and a “ט” which has the gematria of 9... equating to the 49th level of impurity which the nation would fall to in Egypt. We must also ask... what is the link between bringing the first fruits and to that of reciting a brief outline of our history? Hidden amongst this order is a valuable lesson for us with regards to our appreciation of Hashem... we must learn from here that whether it be the produce of the earth or our actual selves, we must always remember where it all came from. If we study the miracles of how fruit is actual grown from no more than some dirt, water and sunlight, or explore the wonders of the human body we can see that Hashem bestows miracles upon us on a daily basis. This links nicely to the miracle that is the Jewish nation's survival throughout history which can only be explained through Hashem's helping hand. We must always remember to appreciate Hashem for all that He does for us and recognise his influence around us... the bikkurim and the short recital was just that.

Although we are unfortunately unable to bring bikkurim in our times due to the lack of a Beis HaMikdash, we are able to show appreciation to Hashem using other avenues. In the section immediately following that of the bikkurim and other tithes to be given over from ones produce, we are told that... “This day, Hashem, your G-d, commands you to perform these decrees and the statutes...” [26:16]. Rashi comments on this possuk, stating that the reason the Torah uses the lashon of “hayom/היום/this day” is because the Torah is trying to teach us an important lesson and that is that each day we must perform the mitzvahs of the Torah as if they were commanded to us anew. This means that we should endeavour to have the excitement every time we perform a mitzvah as if it is a fresh commandment that has just been given to us. This same language is found in the first paragraph of the Shema with it using the words of... “that I command you today”. We therefore learn that although the Torah was given thousands of years ago, we are not to regard the commandments as an ancient ritual that we follow out of loyalty and habit. Rather we are to regard them with the same freshness and enthusiasm as if G-d had given them this very day. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly one we must all strive to try and achieve.

Shabbat Shalom and I wish everyone a successful week ahead,

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)

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