Pesach vort All for the best: Relates to ארמי אבד אבי

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    All for the Best: Relates to ארמי אבד אבי with a new understanding of real hakaras hatov
    ארמי אבד אבי – An Aramean would have destroyed my father (Devarim 26:5).
    The six pesukim that comprise the mikra bikkurim (declaration upon bringing the first fruits) are read aloud by the landowner when he brings his first fruits to the Beis HaMikdash. This is his opportunity to express his hakaras hatov, gratitude, for the land and its produce. These pesukim also figure prominently at our Pesach Seder, where we expound on them at length during the Maggid portion of the Seder.
    This is as it says in the Mishnah in Pesachim (116a), “Maschil be’genus u’mesayeim be’shevach ve’doreish mei’Arami oveid avi ad she’yigmor kol haparashah kulah – At the Seder, one begins with disparagement and concludes with praise, and expounds from ‘Arami oveid avi,’ until he completes the whole section.” The Mishnah tells us of two obligations, one of which is to begin the Seder by mentioning our troubled past and conclude with praise to Hashem for all He has done for us; and the second of which is to recite the six pesukim that are part of mikra bikkurim.
    According to Rashi on the words “Arami oveid avi,” these words speak about the chesed of Hashem. If this phrase is describing how Lavan attempted to kill Yaakov, where is the chesed here?
    The literal meaning of the pasuk is that Lavan actually killed Yaakov. Rashi explains that a non-Jew is held liable for an attempted sin to the same level of culpability as one who actually perpetrated the crime. The Torah can therefore describe Lavan as having killed our father, for Hashem holds him responsible for what he intended to do, and not for what he actually carried out.
    If we follow this logic, then the chesed we are referring to is when Hashem thwarted Lavan’s attempt to kill Yaakov. Hence, we have good reason to be grateful.
    However, if, according to the Mishnah in Pesachim (see also Malbim on this pasuk, and Rashi on Sotah 32b), this part of the bikkurim declaration is comprised of words of genus, they should not be expressing our gratitude to Hashem.
    The format of beginning with genus and ending with shevach is apparent by reading the pesukim of the mikra bikkurim. The first two pesukim of mikra bikkurim (5-6) detail our difficult past, first with Lavan, and continuing to our descent into Egypt and subsequent enslavement. The next two pesukim (7-8) describe our crying out to Hashem, how He heard and saw our plight, and our exodus from Egypt – the result of Hashem’s miraculous intervention. The last two pesukim (9-10) narrate our entrance into a land of milk and honey, culminating with the declaration: “These are the first fruits of this land that You have given us.”
    Why, then, does Rashi write that “Arami oveid avi” is the chesed of Hashem? Those words should be written regarding the pesukim at the end, where we acknowledge the gift of the land and present the bikkurim in the Beis HaMikdash. How can we describe the genus in the two opening pesukim as the chesed of Hashem?
    To begin with, what is the purpose behind the two-step process of commencing with disparagement and concluding with praise? The typical response is: to highlight the contrast. We want to express our gratitude, so we look back at how bad it was and compare it with how good it is now. We suffered with Lavan, we suffered in Egypt, but now Hashem has taken us out and given us this bounty! We are truly grateful.
    I believe that the two-step process serves a far greater purpose than merely showing the contrast. The Hebrew expression for gratitude is hakaras hatov. But the literal translation of the words is: recognition of the good.
    If you give me a million dollars, I will feel gratitude toward you; I don’t have to employ my intellect to feel grateful for such a gift. Showing hakaras hatov means looking for the good even when it is not so apparent. It means that I look and study every event in my life and recognize that all is for the best. I remember that Hashem is in control of all, and therefore anything that befalls me, even when it appears bad and ugly, is also good.
    Our job is to be makir, to recognize, this good. When we are expressing our gratitude in the maschil begenus u’mesayeim be’shevach format – whether at the Seder or when bringing bikkurim – we are not doing so merely to reflect on the contrast, but to use this opportunity to reflect back on the “bad,” and recognize in hindsight that even the “bad” was for good.
    If one is truly makir tov, he will see all of life’s challenges and travails through a set of rosy glasses. He will realize that whatever occurred was a learning experience or an opportunity for growth.
    Yaakov had his challenges from Lavan. The nation as a whole suffered in Egypt. Hashem heard our cries and took us out, bringing us to this fine land with her wonderful fruit. Our hakaras hatov is not only for what we have now, but for what we went through, as well.
    Rashi (26:3) explains that the landowner must say the mikra bikkurim to the Kohen to show that he is not ungrateful. Thus, even by beginning with our troubled past, he is thanking Hashem for all that He has done for him. That is why Rashi says that with the words “Arami oveid avi,” we are mentioning the chesed of Hashem, for we mention the kindness of Hashem in the very beginning of our struggles and challenges, when things still looked “bad and ugly.”
    I am reminded of something I heard from Rav Chaim Kreisworth (chief rabbi of Belgium), at the opening of the Lakewood Kollel in Los Angeles in 1975.We are all familiar with Nachum Ish Gam Zu, who, at every seemingly tragic event, would announce, “Gam zu le’tovah – This is also for good” (Taanis 21a; Sanhedrin 108b-109a). Rabbi Akiva, a student of Nachum, would express a similar sentiment: “Kol de’avid Rachmana le’tav – All the Merciful One does is for good” (Berachos 60b). We find Chazal praising those who used the same phraseology as their teachers. Why, then, did Rabbi Akiva – the student – not use the same words as Nachum – his rebbi?
    Nachum, as the rebbi of Rabbi Akiva, was no doubt (in some ways) on a higher level than his student. Hence, he was able to perceive and identify precisely what was good in a seeming tragedy. The fellow broke his leg or his house burnt down – “Gam zu le’tovah.” He understood what the good was, and he was able to pinpoint it by saying “zu – this.”
    Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, was not on the same level; he was not able to identify what the good was. He just knew that Hashem is in control of everything, and that somehow and in some way, it must be for good. In line with that, he would say: “All the Merciful One does is for good.”
    Even if we cannot identify the precise good in each situation, we must realize that it is all for our best.

    Reb Eliezer

    The Alshich Hakadash says that by Lavan’s fooling Yaakov Avinu, he ended up almost destroying him by going down to Mitzraim. If he would not have fooled him with Leah, he would have married Rochel first and Yosef would have been the bechor and there would have been no reason to end up in Mitzraim because of jeakousy.


    thank you

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