Perashat Ki Tabo 5779
Perashat Ki Tabo 5779Friday, September 20, 2019
Imagine working in a world where there was no air-conditioned office. A world where there was no subway to get to work or a set contract which gave you a sense of security. All there was was you. And a shovel. And if you were lucky, a bull to pull your plow. Could you imagine then, after the blood, sweat, and tears, the digging, plowing, planting, fertilizing, watering and harvesting, how good it must have felt to bite into that first delicious ripe fruit? The sweet feeling of success, of accomplishment and perseverance that must have accompanied that first bite, is hard to fully comprehend in our world. Imagine. I made this. Me! From beginning to end. And then the Torah asks me to give that very fruit, the FIRST one, to Hashem.
It's interesting to note the wording of the pasuk as this man hands over his hard-earned goods.
The pasuk says, וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה' אלוקך , literally translated as, "and you will answer and you will say before Hashem your G-d." He then goes on to recount the history of the Jewish people almost from its inception, the trickery and malice of Lavan, the descent into Egypt and our subsequent slavery. But then G-d took us out with great miracles and fanfare and brought us to Israel and gave us the land of Israel which is flowing with milk and honey.
It seems as if each and every Jew is obligated to say this account, ostensibly to explain why he is giving away his very first fruits.
But there is a tremendous lesson we are being taught here in the subtle subtext of the pasuk.
Rashi points out that here, וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ , must mean something other than, "and you will answer, and you will say", as there was no question posed for him to answer (Siftei Chachamim). Rather, here it is translated to mean something else, לשון הרמת קול . The man is obligated to raise his voice before G-d.
This is strange. The Talmud in Berachot 24 mentions that when someone prays with an audible voice, he is considered a man of little faith, for it is as if he is saying that he doesn't believe G-d would hear him otherwise! And if he RAISES his voice he is compared to the false prophets of the time of Eliyahu Hanavi, who shouted to get the attention of their "god's".
So why shout? And why now? Especially if it is seen as such a negative thing!
The answer is very powerful. Why is the person who brings the offering of the first fruits, the Bikkurim, raising his voice in the first place? Does the Kohen, to whom he is giving the fruit, not know the story already? He hears it from every single person who brings their first fruits!
The answer is that this loud proclamation is not for the Kohen to hear. It is not even for G-d to hear.
It is for HIM to hear.
Praying to G-d loudly denotes a lack of faith. Mentioning it to the Kohen is superfluous. But man, he needs to hear over and over again, how without G-d's help he can achieve nothing whatsoever. I bring my first fruits, the symbol of all my achievement, power and hard work, and I lay it before Hashem and say, "This is not mine." It never was! From the beginning of the Jewish people's precarious existence, we have been hunted down by those who even call themselves "family" to the Jews. We have been exiled and persecuted in Egypt and beyond. We were once slaves, when everything we owned or made belonged to our masters. And then G-d, in a whirlwind of undeserved miracles took us out and gave us this land. It literally flowed with the oozing milk of delicious ripened figs and the honey of succulent dates. It looks like it is mine. It feels like it is mine. It even seems like it is mine. But all of that is an illusion. We owe it all to Hashem! This is not an easy lesson to swallow so he raises his voice and drills it into himself as he hands it over, and struggles with himself not to feel bitter or cheated. Without Hashem what would I have? Would I even have the land that I stand on? Would I even own my own body? The words of the previous pasuk now jump out at us,
The Kohen takes the basket from "your hand" and lays it before the Mizbayah, the Altar of Hashem. Interestingly enough we do not find the words, "And you shall give it to the Kohen". It seems that we all struggle to "relinquish" control over the things we feel are our own doing and lay the honor and credit before the Altar of Hashem.
This then is the avodah, the struggle and work of the person who brings bikkurim. It is the struggle of every person who has ever worked hard for anything in their life. If we can lay our successes at the Altar of Hashem even when we feel WE were the ones that did it, that is the measure of true emuna, true belief in G-d. The secret to this great feat is taught to us in this portion.
How can I rise above my ego's machinations and recognize that it is all Hashem's doing?
By asking one small question. By seeking out the name of bikkurim in the pasuk, reishit, or "the first". What came first? I worked hard, true. But from whom did I get the Land to plant? From whom did I get the freedom to do as I choose, or the wisdom to make that clever business deal of which I am so proud of?
Moshe Rabenu is also called reishit.
Oddly enough Moshe has many beautiful names brought in the Midrash, such as Avigdor, Avisocho, Tovia, etc., each defining an amazing element of Moshe's greatness. And yet he is called Moshe, the one name which doesn't have to do with Moshe's personality or greatness at all, as it means "He was drawn", the name Batya gave him when she saved him from the Nile! The secret here is that this name defines Moshe better than ANY other. As the Torah teaches us, Moshe was the humblest man to ever walk the earth. He even calls himself "Nothing"! How could someone as great as Moshe call himself NOTHING??
The answer is that if ever he felt like something big, Moshe's reishit radar went off. I was pulled from the water by a stranger. My whole essence is because of someone else, and alone I could not have accomplished even the smallest amount! My names are many, my talents vast, my destiny enormous, but my name? My name is Moshe.
What is your name?
Rabbi Shlomo Farhi
May 29 2020
Sivan 6 5780