Friday, September 23, 2016

Dvar Torah for Parshas Ki Savo

       Parshas Ki Savo begins with the mitzvah of Bikkurim. Every year around Shavuos time, you were obligated to bring the first fruits from your field to the Beis Hamikdash as a show of appreciation to Hashem for providing another year’s harvest. It was an exciting time in Yerushalayim when the crowds came with their Bikkurim. The fruits were arranged in beautiful bouquets and placed on top of animals decorated for this special occasion. The people of the city would fill the streets and escorted everyone up to the Beis Hamikdash. This lasted the entire summer and was always a source of excitement and joy.
       Upon reaching the Beis Hamikdash, you would present the Kohen with the fruits and read several verses from our parsha. They talk about how Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim with amazing miracles, brought us all the way to Eretz Yisrael, and provided us with this beautiful produce. These pesukim may be familiar as they are the same ones that we read on Seder night. While the explanation behind these pesukim seems very clear, the Ohr HaChaim explains how there is more here than meets the eye. I would like to focus on one of these pesukim.
          “וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה מִמִּצְרַיִם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל וּבְאֹתוֹת וּבְמֹפְתִים“And Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awesomeness, and with signs and with wonders” (Devarim 26:8). In the Hagadah, we explain each of these things as some of the miracles Hashem did for us in Mitzrayim; however, the Ohr HaChaim here explains differently. Instead of the pasuk referring to supernatural events, never to be repeated throughout history, it actually discusses some things which are still a big part of our lives.
       Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim for two reasons, to save us physically and to save us spiritually. Mitzrayim was the most spiritually desolate place in the world. Each item in the pasuk refers to a positive spiritual influence He gave us to combat the influences of Mitzrayim. “בְּיָד חֲזָקָה”, “a strong hand”, refers to the Torah which the pasuk later on (33:2) explains as having been given to us with Hashem’s ‘hand.’ The remainder of the pasuk refers to the three things which constantly protect us from the Yetzer Hara: Tefillin, Tzitzis, and Mezuzah. See Gemarah Menachos 43b.) The Gemarah teaches us that having these three things, prevent you from sin. “וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה”, “an outstretched arm”, refers to the Tefillin of the arm, while “מֹרָא גָּדֹל”, “great awesomeness”, refers to the Tefillin of the head. “אֹתוֹת”, “signs”, refers to Tzitzis since they serve as a constant reminder that we are servants of Hashem; the commentaries explain that the amount of knots and strings symbolize the 613 mitzvos, and the single string of techeiles reminds us of Hashem’s presence. Finally, “מֹפְתִים”, “wonders”, refers to Mezuzah. According to the Zohar, having a Mezuzah on your door protects the house from death and grave dangers. This is truly a ‘wondrous’ object to prevent such calamities.[1]
       The Ohr HaChaim gives a second explanation for these five phrases by saying they each correspond to a section of the Torah. בְּיָד חֲזָקָה” corresponds to Sefer Bereishis which discusses the creation of the world, done by Hashem’s ‘hand’. “וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה” corresponds to Sefer Shemos which discusses the many miracles Hashem did for us, some of which are explicitly described as being done by Hashem’s outstretched arm. “מֹרָא גָּדֹל” corresponds to Sefer Vayikra where we are commanded in the Avodah of the Mishkan and are taught to treat the Shechinah with the utmost respect; basically, we are taught how to relate and how to appreciate the Awesomeness of Hashem.
       “אֹתוֹת” corresponds to Sefer Bamidbar where each Shevet is given a flag to represent themselves, as well as a specific spot in the encampment. And “מֹפְתִים” corresponds to Sefer Devarim where Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael how their actions, whether good or bad, will directly affect to what happens to them. Having the world act directly in accordance with your actions is supernatural, and would truly make someone feel amazed at how Hashem runs the world; it can provide a sense of wonder.
       While the simple explanation of these pesukim is definitely true and important, this explanation of the Ohr HaChaim stood out to me. When Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, He didn’t just use amazing miracles; those only happened once, and while we appreciate and commemorate them still, they are still just stories, not something we can tangibly point too. Furthermore, even for the generation leaving Mitzrayim who experienced these miracles firsthand, it would be more effective if they had something tangible, something they themselves could use to help them escape Egypt, as opposed to simply watching from the sidelines.
       This explanation addresses both those concerns. Hashem gave us Torah and mitzvos, something real to take with us and allow us to grow spiritually and leave Mitzrayim. And not only that, we still have these objects nowadays, generations after the Exodus! So as we come to bring Bikkurim, or whatever we thank Hashem for nowadays, we aren’t just thanking Him for what He did to bring us out of Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael, from ultimate impurity to ultimate purity, we thank Him for providing us with the tools to continue our spiritual growth throughout the generations.

Shabbat Shalom!  

[1] I feel the word ‘wonder’ is not typically used in the sense the Torah (or at least the translator) intends, therefore, I’d like to explain what I mean when I use this word. ‘Wonder’ refers to the sense of awe or amazement you feel at something; it is an emotion brought upon by something remarkable, surprising, unique, or admiration. In this case, we are using it to describe the reaction to Hashem’s amazing miracles, and later on, we use it to describe the wisdom behind how Hashem runs the world.

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