Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Ki Savo


V’amarta lifnei Hashem Elokecha biarti hakodesh min ha’bayis v’gam n’sativ l’levi ul’ger l’yasom ul’almana k’chol mitzvas’cha asher tzivisani lo avarti mi’mitzvosecha v’lo shachachti (26:13)

            There is a three-year cycle governing the tithes that a person must separate from his crops. In the year following the conclusion of this cycle, a farmer has until the day before Pesach to deliver all of his tithes to their respective destinations. On the last day of Pesach, he recites a passage declaring that he has properly observed the laws governing the separation and distribution of the tithes. The Mishnah in Sotah (32a) refers to this section as the “confession” of the tithes. In what way is a declaration that one has acted properly which contains no reference to sin considered a confession?

            Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev points out an interesting difference between the proper attitude toward mitzvos and sins. With regard to a person’s sins, it is preferable to remember them constantly (Tehillim 51:5) to fully repent for them and to be careful not to repeat them. Regarding mitzvos, however, it is advisable not to dwell on one’s successes, which may cause a person to become haughty or complacent, but rather to leave them in the past and always focus on future growth and accomplishments.

At the end of the Zichronos (Remembrances) section of the Rosh Hashana Mussaf prayers, we say Ki zocher kol hanishkachos atah hu me’olam – You (Hashem) eternally remember everything that is forgotten. In other words, Hashem remembers whatever we forget and “forgets” what we remember. If a person acts properly, remembering his sins and forgetting his mitzvos, Hashem will overlook his misdeeds and focus on recalling his accomplishments. If, however, the person unremorsefully forgets his sins and arrogantly dwells on his mitzvos, Hashem will meticulously remember each sin while overlooking his good deeds.

Based on this explanation, the Satmar Rebbe suggests that in reciting the declaration concerning the distribution of the tithes, the farmer recounts in detail how he acted properly and observed all of the relevant laws. In doing so, he is dwelling upon the mitzvos that he performed over the previous three years, something which Hashem generally prefers that we not do. In this sense, the proclamation that he has behaved properly is in reality a form of a confession.

V’ra’u kol amei ha’aretz ki shem Hashem nikra alecha v’yaru mimeka (28:10)

Moshe blessed the Jewish people that if they act properly and observe the commandments, the nations of the world will see that the name of Hashem is called upon them, and they will fear and revere them. The Gemora in Megillah (16b) understands the concept of the name of Hashem being called upon them as referring to the tefillin, which contain an allusion to one of Hashem’s Divine names (Tosefos Berachos 6a), which are worn in our heads. Why does the Gemora refer to tefillin as being in our heads instead of the seemingly more accurate description of being on our heads?

            The Vilna Gaon was once lodging at an inn when he heard loud cries and screams for help coming from the innkeeper’s room. Although the Gaon was in the middle of the morning prayers, he quickly ran to the aid of a fellow Jew. He threw open the innkeeper’s door and discovered a non-Jew mercilessly beating him. The attacker looked up at the door, and upon seeing the Gaon wearing his tallis and tefillin, was overcome with terror and promptly fainted.

            After recovering from the shock of the incident, the innkeeper expressed his tremendous gratitude to the Vilna Gaon for coming to his rescue. He added that while he was certainly appreciative, he was also curious about the Gaon’s “secret weapon” which had inspired such fear in the heart of his attacker. The Gaon replied by citing the aforementioned Gemora and explained that the sight of him adorned in his tefillin had caused the non-Jew to faint. The innkeeper respectfully asked for clarification, as he himself had been wearing his tallis and tefillin prior to the attack, but they had clearly proven ineffective.

            The Vilna Gaon pointed out that the Gemora uses a peculiar expression. It doesn’t understand the verse as referring to the tefillin which are on one’s head but rather to the tefillin which are in one’s head. He explained that merely placing the tefillin on one’s body is insufficient. A person must contemplate the message of the portions contained therein until they are internalized. While the innkeeper had not yet done so, the Gaon was clearly on such a level. When the attacker perceived his spiritual loftiness, he was overcome with terror to the point of fainting – exactly as promised by the Gemora.

V’haya im lo tishma b’kol Hashem Elokecha lishmor la’asos es kol mitzvosav v’chukosav asher anochi m’tzav’cha hayom u’ba’u alecha kol haklalos haeileh v’hisigucha (28:15)

Parshas Ki Savo is commonly referred to as the parsha of “tochacha” – rebuke. It is full of frightening threats of unimaginable punishment to be meted out to those who brazenly refuse to observe the Torah’s laws. It is interesting to note that this is not the first parsha which contains a lengthy rebuke. Parshas Bechukosai is similarly filled with a terrifying list of punishments which will befall those who fail to observe the mitzvos. This raises two questions. Why was there was a need to repeat the threats after they were already described in gruesome detail in Parshas Bechukosai? Further, why don’t the terrible curses described in our parsha conclude with words of consolation as do those mentioned in Parshas Bechukosai (Vayikra 26:44-45)?

            The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh answers by noting that the curses detailed in Parshas Bechukosai are written in the plural, while those in our parsha are expressed in the singular. He suggests that the punishments mentioned previously are national in nature and will only transpire if the entire nation engages in inappropriate activities. For this reason, they are written in the plural. Our parsha, on the other hand, is expressed in the singular, as it addresses individuals who sin even at a time when the nation as a whole is behaving properly.

With this distinction, we now understand that the rebuke in Parshas Bechukosai ends with words of encouragement because it pertains to the entire nation. No matter how far they may stray, the Jewish nation is guaranteed a continued existence in the merit of Hashem’s covenant with our forefathers. Each individual within the community, however, isn’t as fortunate. Since our parsha discusses the case of the individual who sins, it doesn’t conclude with words of consolation, as they have no such assurance.

The Alter of Kelm uses this concept to resolve an apparent contradiction regarding the nature of Rosh Hashana. On the one hand, it is legally considered a festive day, on which we dress in our finest clothes and eat enjoyable meals. On the other hand, the tone of the day is solemn. Hallel isn’t recited due to the fear and trembling which accompany the knowledge that the books of life and death are open on this day. The Alter explains that as a nation, we are confident in Hashem’s mercy and conduct ourselves with joy and optimism. At the same time, each individual is filled with dread and terror at the recognition that he has no such guarantee.

As the Day of Judgment approaches, we may find comfort in the message of the Alter. If we live in our own vacuums, we will be judged on our own merits in less than a month, a scary thought. However, our Rabbis teach that if we affiliate ourselves with a community, becoming part of our synagogues and volunteering to help with communal projects and organizations, we will share in their collective merits. As a result, we will enjoy an inscription for a year of health, happiness, and blessing.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     A farmer is required to bring bikkurim – the first ripened fruits of the seven species for which the land of Israel is praised – to the Temple. The Medrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4) that the world was created in the merit of three mitzvos, one which is bikkurim. Why is this mitzvah so great that it justified the creation of the entire universe? (Alshich HaKadosh)

2)     The Mishnah in Pesachim (116a) rules that the core of the Haggadah Shel Pesach consists of expounding upon the verses (26:5-9) which pertain to national history in the section recited by a person bringing bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple. The Mishnah teaches that one should begin from 26:5 – an Aramean attempted to destroy my father – and continue discussing each verse until completing the entire section. Why do we expound upon the first 4 verses in this section but omit a discussion of the final verse, which gives praise to Hashem for bringing us to the land of Israel and giving us the Beis HaMikdash? (Haggadah Shel Pesach HaLaylah HaZeh)

3)     Rashi writes (28:6) that if a person properly performs the mitzvos, his departure from the world will be without sin just as was his entrance to the world. How can the idea that a person is born clean from sin be reconciled with the kabbalistic concept of gilgulim (reincarnation), which teaches that a person’s soul is sent back to the earth to rectify whatever misdeeds it performed in its previous incarnation? (Rashash Bava Metzia 107a, Derech Sicha, Taam V’Daas)

4)     The Torah teaches (28:47) that the terrible curses described throughout the parsha will come as a result of not serving Hashem with gladness. If this is indeed such a terrible sin, why is there no commandment to do so? (Yad Av)

  © 2010 by Oizer Alport.