Classics and Beyond: Ki Savo 2 — The Birth of a Nation

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    Ki Savo 2 — The Birth of a Nation
    וידבר משה והכהנים הלוים אל כל ישראל לאמר הסכת ושמע ישראל היום הזה נהיית לעם לה’ אלקיך
    Moshe and the Kohanim, the Leviim, spoke to all Israel, saying, “Be attentive and hear, Israel: This day you have become a people to Hashem, your G-d” (Devarim 27:9).
    Rashi (ibid. 29:3) tells us that when Moshe gave the Sefer Torah to Bnei Levi (31:19), Bnei Yisrael approached Moshe and complained, “Didn’t we all stand at Har Sinai? Didn’t we all receive the Torah? So why did you put the members of your tribe, Levi, in charge of the Torah? One day, they may come and say that the Torah was only given to them and not to us!”
    When Moshe heard this, he was very happy and stated the verse cited above, “This day you have become a people to Hashem, your G-d.” Now he understood that they were “deveikim va’chafeitzim ba’Makom.” They wanted to connect to Hashem and yearned for Him.
    Why did their complaint cause Moshe to say that today they became Hashem’s nation, more so than when they stated, “Naaseh ve’nishma — We will do and we will obey” (Shemos 24:7), as they accepted the agreement sight unseen?
    I once heard Rav Yeruchim Olshin, rosh yeshivah of Beth Medrash Govoha, share a pshat from Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, the mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha, to answer this. (See Kovetz Sichos p.126; pp.204-206.) When quoting Bnei Yisrael’s concern that the Leviim would one day come and claim that the Torah is not theirs, Rashi uses the phrase, “yom machar,” which can mean tomorrow or one day in the distant future. (See Rashi Devarim 6:20.)
    Bnei Yisrael were never worried about themselves. They had witnessed Maamad Har Sinai, they had eaten the manna; their connection to Hashem and His Torah was unbreakable. What concerned them was the legacy they would leave for future generations. What did they have to pass down? How would they ensure that the Torah would guide, mold, and forever live within their children as it had for them?
    Hearing their concern, not for themselves but for posterity, Moshe declared, “Today you are a nation!” Moshe saw that the Torah was not merely something that they felt was important, but that it was of supreme and ultimate value to them. When you recognize how vital something is, that it is your very lifeblood, you realize that you must share it with your children; you cannot possibly keep it to yourself. When Bnei Yisrael demonstrated that their love of Torah was so great that they feared it would be taken away from their descendants, Moshe understood that they truly wanted to connect to Hashem and be close to Him.
    This, said the mashgiach, is the definition of an am, a nation. A nation is an entity that endures and continues into the future.
    There is a well-known Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a-b), in which the Sages and the Prophets were asked the question (Yirmeyahu 9:11): “Al mah avdah ha’aretz — For what reason did the Land perish?” Why was the first Beis HaMikdash destroyed?
    None of them could provide an answer, until Hashem Himself informed them (v.12), “Al azvam es Torasi — Because of their forsaking My Torah.” The Gemara explains what this means: “She’lo birchu ba’Torah techillah — They did not recite the blessings on the Torah before learning.” The Jews did not say the Birchos HaTorah found in Birchos HaShachar, which are said before beginning our day.
    The Shaagas Aryeh (siman 24) cites this Gemara as proof that reciting Birchos HaTorah is a de’Oraysa, a Torah-based obligation, for if it were only a de’Rabbanan, a Rabbinic-based obligation, failure to recite these blessings would not have resulted in such a severe punishment. (See also Pri Chadash.)
    The Magen Gibborim (47:8) asks: We know that one can be yotzei his chiyuv of Birchos HaTorah by saying the berachah of Ahavah Rabbah (in which we thank Hashem for the Torah and ask for help in understanding it) before reciting Krias Shema. The Gemara does not say that the Yidden didn’t recite Krias Shema and the berachos that precede it. So if they were indeed saying Ahavah Rabbah and thereby fulfilling their obligation of reciting Birchos HaTorah, why were they punished?
    The Magen Gibborim explains that one can only be yotzei his obligation of reciting Birchos HaTorah by saying Ahavah Rabbah if he specifically intends to. If he only has in mind to fulfill his obligation of reciting Birchos Krias Shema when saying Ahavah Rabbah, he would still have to make another blessing on learning Torah.
    At the time of the Churban Beis HaMikdash, explains the Magen Gibborim, though Bnei Yisrael recited Ahavah Rabbah, it was not with the intent of fulfilling their chiyuv of saying Birchos HaTorah. This was because they did not view Torah as important enough to warrant its own berachah. That deficiency, that lack of kavod for Torah, was the cause of the Churban.
    Accordingly, the Magen Gibborim answers a question on the Gemara: How were the Sages and the Prophets unable to answer Yirmeyahu’s question? Why couldn’t they figure out the reason for the Churban? They must have seen their fellow Yidden skipping Birchos HaTorah! But according to this explanation, the Jews saw no need to have the additional kavanah of being yotzei Birchos HaTorah when reciting Ahavah Rabbah. This is something that only Hashem knows, for He is the “Bochein kelayos va’lev — One Who examines innermost thoughts and feelings” (Yirmeyahu 11:20). Hence, this is a question only Hashem could answer.
    The Magen Gibborim also argues that the Shaagas Aryeh and Pri Chadash may not be correct. The fact that not saying Birchos HaTorah caused the Churban is not necessarily proof that it is mi’de’Oraysa. Rather, by deliberately intending not to fulfill their obligation of reciting Birchos HaTorah when saying Ahavah Rabbah, Bnei Yisrael displayed gross disrespect to the Torah, which may, in and of itself, warrant such a terrible consequence.
    There is another way to explain the Gemara in Bava Metzia, which dovetails with the pshat mentioned earlier from Rav Wachtfogel. (See Marpei Lashon, Amud HaTorah, pp.73-74, from Rav Raphael Hamburger for a similar explanation.)
    If the cause of the Churban and loss of the Land came about because Bnei Yisrael did not recite Birchos HaTorah, Hashem could have simply said, “Al azvam es Birchos HaTorah — Because of their forsaking Birchos HaTorah.” Why did He say so cryptically, “Al azvam es Torasi — Because of their forsaking My Torah,” which the Gemara had to go and interpret further?
    When saying Birchos HaTorah, we add, “May we and our offspring and the offspring of Your people, the House of Israel — all of us — know Your Name and study Your Torah for its own sake.” While acknowledging our gratitude to Hashem for the gift of Torah, we beseech Him that our love and devotion to Torah carry on to our children.
    Yet the Gemara (Shabbos 119b) states, “Lo charvah Yerushalayim ella bishvil she’bitlu bah tinokos shel beis rabban — Yerushalayim was destroyed only because the Torah study of schoolchildren was interrupted.” At the time of the Churban, the Jews may have learned Torah themselves, but they did not want that for the next generation.
    We may suggest that this is what the Gemara means when it says that the Yidden did not recite Birchos HaTorah. They were learning, and they were dedicated to Torah. But that dedication did not lead them to beg Hashem that their children should have the same ethereal and eternal gift. By failing to beg for the continuity of Torah, they showed that they were not truly “deveikim va’chafeitzim baMakom,” connected and yearning for Hashem, like Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar. When one’s love for Torah does not compel him to pass it on, there is a deficiency in his own love and attachment to it.
    In that sense, they were actually abandoning Torah. Thus, Hashem said, “Al azvam es Torasi.” If your love is true, if the geshmak is there, how can you not want your children to partake of its sweetness? Failure to do so is a clear sign of disregard for the Torah itself.
    This can be seen in the Gemara in Nedarim (81a), where we find a discussion regarding why the children of talmidei chachamim frequently do not follow in the footsteps of their fathers. One reason is: They do not say Birchos HaTorah first, the same reason given in Bava Metzia for the Churban. Rashi explains that this means that the talmidei chachamim do not say Birchos HaTorah, and thus they don’t request that their children and descendants should also be knowledgeable in Torah and learn it for its own sake.
    Concern for the hemshech, continuity, of Torah to the next generation, and praying for that continuity, is what defines a nation. Lack of this concern can prevent our children from becoming talmidei chachamim, and even bring about the Churban.
    We have the quintessential gift; we need to pass it on.

    Reb Eliezer

    Look at the Taz O’CH 47 for making the bracha laasok bedivrei Torah making learning a business of give and take, to deepen oneself into it. The Chasam Sofer in Nedorim there explains that they considered learning Torah as a hechsher mitzva, to know what to do, so they held that it needs no bracha before learning. As a melitza the Chasam Sofer interprets the statement that they praised one for his secular knowledge first over his Torah knowledge.

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