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Parashat Ki Tavo
In self-help, we are taught that what makes people move, change, become motivated, is from one of two things: either running away from pain, or running towards pleasure. If we would like to discover how this expresses itself in our observance of Judaism, it can translate into the belief that G-d offers reward for good deeds and punishes for sin. When you believe this, that G-d rewards the righteous and that the sinners suffer, it is easier to stay motivated to keep Mitzvoth and refrain from Averot. The problem, the reason why this is confusing, is because in the world of העלם, G-d allows the illusion that the righteous suffer and the mirage that sinners get away with it.
We all want G-d to grant us a good year. And G-d wants us to give Him a good year, as well, by making Him King. You cannot expect G-d to be good to you, if you do not want to keep your side of the “bargain”. As Orthodox Jews, we all believe in reward and punishment. We believe that G-d will pay us for our good deeds, and that our sins have a price tag. But unfortunately, this is mostly a belief that is reflected upon in the past or present. I realized that I never reflect on this belief when I plan my future. That if I daven with more heart, G-d may answer my prayers. That if I learn without interruption, I may have more success in financing my family. And that if I give more Tzeddakah and do more Chessed, G-d will open the gates of Heaven and allow His blessings to pour into my life.
Parashat Ki Tavo has a fundamental lesson interlaced throughout the Parasha. You want good in life, in this world and the next? Invest in G-d. Do more mitzvoth. Less sins. More Torah.
For example. The Midrash tells us, in the beginning of the Parasha, how powerful a Mitzvah can be. That someone who does a Mitzvah, has more of a right to have his request granted of G-d than someone who is dealing with a king. When dealing with a king, you can offer him a fortune, just to get in to see him; and you have no way of knowing if he will do as you request. But G-d is not that way. A person goes down to his field and sees a first fig of the crop, or the first cluster of the crop and puts it in his basket. And he comes and stands in the Temple and says, “הַשְׁקִיפָה֩ מִמְּע֨וֹן קָדְשְׁךָ֜ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבָרֵ֤ךְ אֶֽת־עַמְּךָ֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֵת֙ הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תָּה לָ֑נוּ כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר נִשְׁבַּ֙עְתָּ֙ לַאֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ: G-d, Gaze down from your holy dwelling and bless Your nation, Yisrael, and the land that you gave to us, as you swore to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. The Midrash adds that the person offering Bikurim now says, I am not going to leave this spot, until You do all that I need!
The right the man has to ask, to demand directly of G-d is something Resh Lakish learns from the adjacent words of the following passuk. הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֗ה יְקֹוָ֨ק אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ מְצַוְּךָ֧ לַעֲשׂ֛וֹת אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֑ים וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֤ וְעָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ אוֹתָ֔ם בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ:, … “This day Hashem commanded you to do”. Resh Lakish explains the flow of pesukim, that a Heavenly voice would go out and say “You will have [plenty, success] again, next year.”
What does this mean? I have the power, to decide my fate through my deeds? Having a good life is up to me? I am in control of my destiny, my future, the outcome? We pray to Hashem while bringing the Bikurim, הַשְׁקִיפָה֩ מִמְּע֨וֹן קָדְשְׁךָ֜ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבָרֵ֤ךְ אֶֽת־עַמְּךָ֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֵת֙ הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תָּה לָ֑נוּ Gaze down from Your holy dwelling, from the Heavens, and bless Your Jewish Nation and the Land You gave us. Rashi says on this, that the person bringing the Bikurim is saying, עשינו מה שגזרת עלינו, עשה אתה מה שעליך לעשות, שאמרת (ויקרא כו, ג) אם בחקתי תלכו ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם: We did what you have decreed us to do; now, do Your part, as it says, “If you go in my statutes, I will give your rain in its time”.
R Alexandri writes that usually, the word השקיפה refers to G-d gazing in a way that brings suffering. וַיַּשְׁקֵ֤ף יְקֹוָק֙ אֶל־מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּעַמּ֥וּד אֵ֖שׁ וְעָנָ֑ן וַיָּ֕הָם אֵ֖ת מַחֲנֵ֥ה מִצְרָֽיִם : וַיַּשְׁקֵ֗ף עַל־פְּנֵ֤י סְדֹם֙ וַעֲמֹרָ֔ה וְעַֽל־כָּל־פְּנֵ֖י אֶ֣רֶץ הַכִּכָּ֑ר Every time there is the root שקף , it implies something bad, negative. But in the case of the Bikurim, the word השקיפה is an exception, and it brings blessings! After the Bikurim process, after the tithing, after the kindness to the Kohen and to the poor, the evil judgement of שקף is switched to Mercy. And not only that! Usually, our deeds are not enough to make us deserving of goodness, for they are not only leshem Shamayim – they can be observed because of ulterior motives. As it says, לך ה’ הצדקה ולנו בושת הפנים To You, Hashem, is righteousness, and to us is embarrassment. (See Shemot Rabbah Ki Tisah 41) The Shem Mishmuel writes that giving charity will connect one to G-d and draw blessing from G-d more than most Mitzvot will, because G-d is with the poor and downtrodden, and He uses them for the great Tafkidim, as it says ואני את דכא אשכון .(See Sh. Mish’ Vayigash, Sotah 5a, Yeshaya 57 15)
Regarding Torah learning, as well. Tremendous blessing is bestowed in financing a family, when one is constantly watchful not to disturb his set times of Torah study. As it says, וּבָ֧אוּ עָלֶ֛יךָ כָּל־הַבְּרָכ֥וֹת הָאֵ֖לֶּה וְהִשִּׂיגֻ֑ךָ כִּ֣י תִשְׁמַ֔ע בְּק֖וֹל יְקֹוָ֥ק אֱלֹהֶֽיך. And all these blessings will chase after you, and they will reach you, when you listen to the Voice of YHVH, your G-d.(Devarim 28 2) The Seforno explains this to mean that even without your running after the blessings, they will chase after you, even without your Hishtadlut. But, this is only when you listen to the voice of G-d, and the Seforno explains this to mean, when you make your Torah study your primary occupation, and your work, secondary. As we see in the times of the second temple, people were able to have just a Kazayit of food and feel satiated. (See Yoma 39a) Because wealth, in Judaism, does not mean you will have more. Wealth, in Judaism, means you will need less.
Do you believe this? That if you leave your learning, your seder, before time is up, if you answer a phone call that you do not need to answer, you will have to work harder to support your family, for you will be working without G-d’s blessings? These are G-d’s promises to you, in this week’s parasha.
So, before you map out who you want to be and what you want to do for the next year, remember: When you give tzedakah, when you do chessed, you are in control of your destiny, and you can change your bad decree to a good one. When you learn uninterruptedly, you will have less unexpected expenses, and you will be granted Divine Assitance. With these two, you have a promise from G-d that you will have a beautiful year.