A Basket of Plenty
"And when you will come into the land that Hashem gave to you as an inheritence, and you will settle upon it. You shall take from the the first fruits of the land that Hashem has given you, and put them in a basket and bring them to the place which Hashem has chosen for His presence to dwell there." (Deut. 26:1,2)
What is the reason for the this mitzvoh of Bikkurim, first fruits. Many of the major commentaries on the Torah expand on an idea that is brought by the Rambam in his Sefer HaMitzvos, and later by the Sefer HaChinuch (which we mentioned also in last week's Parsha).
Says the Rambam, that it comes to instruct us to dedicate our desires to the Creator of the World who brought into being all of the things that we desire. When one devotes his time and energy to tending his fields and orchards and vines and the first fruits appear, his natural tendency is to desire those fruits. He puts his eye on them, intending to pick them as soon as they are ripe, and with them, to prepare a feast for his family and friends.
The Torah says, no! These fruits belong to he one who really brought them into being. Your desire to enjoy them should be preceeded by the desire to express gratitude for the good portion that you have in the land. Only then you may partake of the lands' bounty.
The Shatzer Rebbe zt"l of London in his book Ohr HaGanuz (The Hidden Light), writes a beautiful idea which put this into perspective. "You shall take from the first fruits of the land that Hashem has given you, and put them in a basket. . .". The word for basket here in the Torah is Teneh (T*N*EH). He says that Teneh is an acrostic for the three words: Ta'amim, Nekudos, Osi'os. (Cantillation marks, vowel marks and letters) This refers to the Torah and all of it's particular details of cantillation, vocalization and exegesis from which we learn so many fine points of Jewish law and philosophy.
When one takes his first fruits and puts them in the basket; that is, when he puts them in the context of the intention of Torah, he is sure to use them in the service of the Creator first. Then his own enjoyment is Kosher and in the spirit of the Torah.
"And he shall give the basket to the Cohen (priest) that will be working there at that time. . ." (Deut. 26:3)
The Cohen refers to the Rebbes and Tzaddikim of our generation. Hashem insures that each generation has its own spiritual leaders and that they are especially suited to the times. When one makes a strong connection with the Tzaddik, by giving him his basket; by entrusting him to provide guidance in Torah and Avodah (service), then our first fruits are sure to be acceptable.
The Blessing is the Curse
In Parshas Ki Savo we find the most incredible and atrocious curses that are destined to come upon the Jewish people. War, plunder, agricultural disaster, famine so severe that mothers eat their children. Commentators tell us that these curses are referring to the time of the Second Temple. A student of Jewish history knows that these and more have befallen the Jewish people since the end of the Temple; the beginning of our current exile.
"And all these curses will have come upon you, pursuing you and catching you to destroy you, because you didn't obey Hashem and didn't keep his laws and statutes which he commanded. It will be a sign and proof to you and to your children forever. Because when you had everything, you did not serve Hashem with happiness and with a joyous heart." (Deut. 28:45-47)
The Ohr HaChayim HaKodesh writes, that the curses which are enumerated in the Torah in this Parsha, are based on three major things, the neglect of Torah study, disregard in the performance of positive mitzvohs and the transgression of negative mitzvohs.
How can one achieve the simcha (happiness) needed to save himself from these curses? The Ohr HaChayim is giving us the answer. Our sages says that there is no simcha like the resolution of doubts. When one learns Torah in order to clarify how to behave and how to think etc., the Torah's way clarifies all of his doubts. He no longer is in limbo, not knowing what to do or how to respond. This brings about an incredible simcha!
Learning Torah is simple, enjoyable and interesting. The Torah is so broad that it has topics of interest for everybody, as the Gemarra says, "A person can only learn that which his heart desires. Today, with the incredible opportunities for Torah study via the internet, even if you are in a place with no Jews with whom to learn, the wisdom of Hashem is readily available.
As we say in the Maariv prayer. "Ki hem Chayanu, . . .", they (the words of the Torah) are our life and the length of our days, and we will study them morning and evening. When one sets fixed immutable times for study, even if only a few minutes every morning and evening, one fulfills his obligation and puts himself on the lifelong path of Torah learning.
This has to be the world's easiest, and certainly the most infallible prescription for true happiness (simcha).
A Blessing in Disguise
Although the curses are frightful, nevertheless they actually represent a message of hope, consolation and blessing for those who are dedicated to serving Hashem.
R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad, and known as the Ba'al HaTanya, was a renowned Ba'al Koreh, Torah reader. His chassidim followed his Torah reading gripped with emotion as he led them together through the creation of the world. By he end of the Book of Genesis, they felt as if they had personally known the forefathers and foremothers. When B'nai Yisroel went into slavery in Egypt, they too endured their torture and the servitude. When they came out of Egypt as a free nation, they experienced the exultation and the gratitude to Hashem. The journeys through the desert were their own journeys though life, and the imminent entrance into Eretz Yisrael was their own hope and expectation.
When the Rebbe passed away, a new reader, one of the elder chassidim took his place. That year, the first after the Rebbes' death, when they came to the Portion of Ki Savo and its curses, the Rebbe's young grandson, Menachem Mendel (who was to become the 3rd Rebbe of Chabad and known as the Tzemach Tzedek), began to cry bitter tears and could not be consoled. When his father finally succeeded in calming him down, he asked, "Why did you weep so much my son? Every year you hear this Parsha and you never before wept ."
"The reason I never wept before", said the youngster, "was because Zeide (grandfather) used to read the Torah. When Zeide read the curses, they sounded to me like blessings!"
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