Monday, September 3, 2012

Ki Tavo & Mussar for Elul


The Torah Portion of Ki Tavo

"And it shall be, when you will enter the land..." (Devorim 26:1)

The Hebrew word "Tavo" (in English: "you will enter") has the same letters as the Hebrew word "Avot" (in English: "Patriarchs").  Because of the merit of the Patriarchs, we merited to receive the Land of Israel.

"An Arami ( that is, an Aramean) would have destroyed my father, and he descended to Mitzrayim (Egypt) and he sojourned there, few in number, and there, he became a nation -- big, numerous, and great."  (Devorim 26:5)

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains, "an Arami" refers to the Evil Inclination because it is a big Ramai (in English: a deceiver.  Note that the Hebrew words "Arami" and "Ramai" both have the same letters.)  The Evil Inclination deceives people in order to destroy them.  "Destroyed my father" refers to the fact that the Evil Inclination caused the first man, Adam HaRishon, to sin.  Adam HaRishon was our first father, and this destroyed him and caused death to him and the generations that follow him.  "And he descended to Mitzrayim" refers to the the body of the person, because the body is called "Mitzrayim" since it causes distress (in Hebrew Maitzar, which is a similar word to Mitzrayim) to the soul because of its desires.  "And he sojourned there", because in the beginning the Evil Inclination enters into the person just to sojourn there on a temporary basis.  "Few in number", means with only a small amount of power.  "And there he became a nation -- big, numerous", means that afterwards the power of the Evil Inclination increases by what the man himself does.  "And great", that is to say, the Evil Inclination is great.  Similarly, the Arizal explains the verse "And forgive my sin because it is great" (Tehillim 25:11), that this is a request that Hashem should forgive my sin because the Evil Inclination is great.

"And you will be happy with all the goodness..." (Devorim 26:11)

The Ohr HaChaim says, that "all the goodness" is also hinting to us about the Torah, as it is said in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 6, Mishnah 3) "And there is no goodness except for Torah".  For if people would feel the sweetness of the Torah and the pleasantness of the Torah's goodness they would be passionately crazy about it, and all the silver and gold in the world would seem in their eyes as nothing (by comparison), for the Torah contains all of the goodness in the world.

The Bikkurim (The First Fruits)

The Ari says that the Mitzvah of Bikkurim is an atonement for the sin of the Meraglim (the Spies), in order to show that we cherish the Land of Israel, and also to teach us not to be gluttonous, since the first fruits are for the Mitzvah of Bikkurim.  Also, the Bikkurim instruct us regarding the trait of Gaiva (Arrogance), since the Mishna says that even the King needs to hold the basket of the Bikkurim on his shoulder as in the case of Agrippas HaMelech, because it is not appropriate to be haughty before Hashem.

The Four Verses explained in the Passover Haggadah (Verses 5, 6, 7, 8 in Devorim Chapter 26)

The four verses that are explained in the Passover Haggadah (Verses 5, 6, 7, 8 in Devorim Chapter 26), come from the section about the Bikkurim (the First Fruits). Why are the explanations in the Passover Haggadah based on these four verses from the section about the First Fruits, and not from the story of the Exodus in Shemot, which is where the Exodus from Mitzrayim is written about?  The reason is that the concept of Hakarat HaTov (Gratitude) is written about within the section about the First Fruits, and at Passover we thank and express our gratitude to the Holy One Blessed Be He for all his kindness.

"I have not transgressed any of your commandments, and I have not forgotten..." (Devorim 26:13)

This is stated at the time of Vidui Ma'aserot (Confession of the Tithes).  This occurs twice in seven years, 1) on Erev Pesach after the third year, and 2) on Erev Pesach after the sixth year.  What is the meaning of "and I have not forgotten"?  Rashi explains "and I have not forgotten", that I haven't forgotten to say the blessing about separating the tithes.  There are those that explain that the Sages say that if someone doesn't separate tithes, rats come and eat his produce, and if someone eats food after a rat ate part of it, that will cause forgetfulness.  And this is why it says, "and I have not forgotten" -- I fufilled the Mitzvah of tithing, and therefore rats didn't eat my produce, and  I wasn't caused to become forgetful.  (from Mayana Shel Torah)

Vidui Ma'aserot (Confession of the Tithes)

The Soforno explains why it is called Vidui Maaserot (Confession of the Tithes), for in truth the Divine service needed to be performed by the Bechorot (First Born men), but only because of the sin of the Golden Calf, the T'rumot and Ma'aserot (offerings and tithes) are transferred to the Cohanim and the Levi'im.  And that is why it is called the Confession of the Tithes -- because we are regretting our sins.  There are those that explain that the reason is it called Vidui Ma'aserot (Confession of the Tithes), is that the Hebrew word Vidui is similar to the Hebrew word Vadaut (certainty), that is to say, we need to ascertain that in truth that the removal (of the tithes) was done properly.  And also in the Vidui of Teshuva (the Confession when we Repent), the person confessing ascertains what he did in private and in public.

"Cursed is one who strikes his fellow in secret..." (Devorim 27:24)

The Chafetz Chaim  says that there are those who request blessings from Tzaddikim (righteous men), and if the person is a Ba'al Lashon Hara (habitual speaker of derogatory speech) the blessings cannot take effect, because it is written "Cursed is one who strikes his fellow in secret" (Devorim 27:24), and this is referring to someone who speaks Lashon Hara (derogatory speech).  If 600,000 Jews cursed him how can a blessing be effective?

"Cursed is one who will not uphold the words of this Torah..." (Devorim 27:26)

It is told that a man came to the Chafetz Chaim together with his son, to ask for a blessing.   The Chafetz Chaim told him, you don't need my blessing.  If you send your son to a Talmud Torah, you don't need my blessing, because all of Israel blessed you, saying "Blessed is one who will uphold the words of this Torah".  And if your son learns in a Chiloni (anti-religious) school, my blessing won't help, because all of Israel cursed you when they said "Cursed is one who will not uphold the words of this Torah".  The man was very impressed that the Chafetz Chaim knew that he was giving his son a Chiloni education, and he did Teshuva (repented).  (from Torat HaParsha)

"Blessed is one who will uphold the words of this Torah..."  (based on Devorim 27:26 -- since for each of the curses which were stated, a blessing was also stated)

The Ramban says that someone who properly performs Hagbaha (the elevation of the Torah scroll in front of the congregation) is included within the blessing, "Blessed is one who will uphold the words of this Torah".  One of the Tzaddikim (Righteous Men) saw someone gluing Seforim (Holy Books) in the Bait HaKnesset (synagogue), and told him to say "Blessed is one who will uphold the words of this Torah".  This blessing also includes those who hand out and arrange Seforim in the classroom, and those who return Seforim to their place.

"And it will be that if you do not listen  ... then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you." (Devorim 28:15)

The Tirgum Yonatan says, that when Moshe began the words of this rebuke, the Earth quaked, and the Heavens shook, the Sun and the Moon darkened, and the Stars gathered in their brightness, and the Patriarchs of the World screamed from their graves, and all the creatures were still, and even the branches of trees did not move.  And the Patriarchs of the World were saying, Chaval (Oy Vey!) on our children when they will sin and these curses will come upon them.  How will they be able to stand them, and perhaps they will be destroyed entirely, and our merit will not protect them, and there won't be a single person who will stand up and pray for them?  A Bat Kol (Heavenly Voice) came down from the Heavens and said, don't be afraid Patriarchs of the World, even if the merit of all the generations will cease, your merit will not cease, and the Covenant which I established with you will not be cancelled and it will protect them.

"Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written in the book of this Torah, Hashem will bring them upon you, until you are destroyed." (Devorim 28:61)

In this week's Torah Portion, 98 curses are written, and in addition there are two more in "Also every sickness, and every plague".  Together that makes 100.  In parallel to that, the Sages have established 100 blessings (to be said daily) to overcome the curses.  May Hashem grant us that the year and its curses will end, and for this reason we read the curses before Rosh Hashana.  And the Tosefot adds, that it is necessary to have a break between the curses and Rosh Hashana, so that we read another Torah Portion (such as Nitzavim), so that we don't enter immediately after the curses into Rosh Hashana.  One of the Tzaddikim (Righteous Men) said that the reason we read the curses before Rosh Hashana is so that we will fulfill the curses only by means of reading them and not have them occur in actuality.  (from Mayana Shel Torah)


Defective Sight

It is taught in Masechet B'chorot (40b) that if a first born domestic animal has one large eye and one small eye, that is a defect.  Rebbe Ya'akov Perlov of Novominsk explained: a man always needs to look at the virtues of others and not their shortcomings.  And this is hinted at by the Mishna: if a man looks at himself with a "large eye" and thinks that he is an elevated person, and he looks at others with a "small eye", and notices their shortcomings, this is a sign that he himself has a defect.

Saving the Honor of the Lowly

Much greatness of character was demonstrated by the Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the author of the "Sefat Emet", in how he related to wretched, lowly people.  One time a Tzedakah (Charity) box was stolen from the house of the Rebbe.  Suspicion fell on a man who had come to help out in the house for a certain salary.  The Rebbe called him and said to return the money that he had taken.  That person tried to deny the theft, but when he saw how the Rebbe's burning eyes penetrated deeply within him to his very depths, he wasn't able to continue to deny it and he confessed.  When he returned the money, the Rebbe told him, now I willl advise you to return to your city, for here they will not honor because of the act which you did, and I will send you your salary every month...


The Torah Portion of Ki Tavo has 122 verses.3 positive commandments. 3  negative commandments.  Haftora: "Kumi Ori"  (Yishayahu 60).

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
May you be written and sealed for a Good Year.

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