Parashat Ki Tavo - On Thankfulness and Being an Ingrate
מרן רה"י הרב שבתי סבתו | יט אלול התשפא | 27.08.2021
Parashat Ki Tavo
פרשת כי תבוא
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
הרב שבתי סבתו
הכרת הטוב וכפיות טובה
On Thankfulness and Being an Ingrate
The Two Wavings
Parashat Ki Tavo begins with a mitzvah that expresses better than anything else the sensation and trait of hakarat hatov, "gratefulness." This is the commandment of bringing bikurim, first-fruits, to the Temple, and of reciting a special message of thanks for the occasion.
If we look closely, we will see that the performance of this mitzvah involves two acts of "setting down" the first-fruits. In verse 4 the priest sets down the fruits, and in verse 10, it is the land-owner who sets it down. Often, setting something down means that it was first raised up, and the Gemara (Makkot 18b) in fact derives that that is what happens here: First the fruits are lifted, or waved – the act of t'nufah – and then they are set down.
To be specific: After arriving in Jerusalem with his fruits and meeting the priest in the Holy Temple, the farmer is to begin his declaration by announcing that he has arrived "in the land that Hashem has sworn to give us." At that point, the priest takes the bikurim and "sets them down" in front of the altar (verse 4). This signifies the end-action of the first "waving."
In the next stage, the farmer resumes the speech he is commanded to give, and declares:
וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה לִּי ה'...
Behold, I have brought the first fruits
of the land that You gave me, Hashem. (D'varim 26,10)
He recounts how the Jewish People descended to Egypt, suffered tortures and afflictions there, and were Divinely saved and miraculously brought to the Holy Land. When he concludes, he sets down the fruits that he brought - after picking them up (t'nufah) from where the priest had set them down. Bringing the fruits and recounting G-d's goodness raises him up to the highest heights of joy and inspiration:
וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל הַטּוֹב אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לְךָ ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ...
And you shall rejoice in all the goodness
that Hashem your G-d has given you. (verse 11)
What is the symbolism of these two acts of t'nufah of the first-fruits? And why is the word t'nufah not written outright, but rather only the act of "setting down"?
To answer the first question, let us go backwards to Parashat B'haalotecha in Bamidbar, where we read that Moshe is to sanctify the Levites for Divine worship. He is to do t'nufah on them – physically lift and wave them, removing them from amidst the Children of Israel and transferring them to G-d's "authority." It is interesting to note that here, too, there is an obligation to do this twice:
וְהֵנִיף אַהֲרֹן אֶת הַלְוִיִּם תְּנוּפָה לִפְנֵי ה' מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל...
Aharon should wave the Levites before G-d, from the Children of Israel…
וְהַעֲמַדְתָּ אֶת הַלְוִיִּם לִפְנֵי אַהֲרֹן וְלִפְנֵי בָנָיו וְהֵנַפְתָּ אֹתָם תְּנוּפָה לַה'.
Stand the Levites before Aharon and his sons, and wave them unto G-d.
Another hint to the double-waving is provided in this verse:
כִּי נְתֻנִים נְתֻנִים הֵמָּה לִי מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל...
For the Levites are given, given to Me, from among the Children of Israel.
The wordנתונים , given, appears twice, symbolizing two acts of being given – waved – to Hashem. What is the significance of this double-action?
Let us note that the act of t'nufah means "giving to Hashem Who is found in every place." We see this in the following Talmudic passage:
- Yochanan said: He brings [the Four Species on Sukkot] back and forth to the Master of the Four Winds, and lifts up and brings down to the Master of the heaven and earth. (Sukkah 37b)
The Laws of the Sabbath, which forbid moving something from a private domain to a public domain, or vice-versa, provide us with an additional insight. One is considered to have violated this law only if he does two things: Removes it from the first domain, and places it in the second domain. We can see these two actions regarding the bikurim and the Levites as well:
1) The first waving: taking the Levites or the bikurim out of the domain of Bnei Yisrael
2) The second waving: bringing the Levites or the bikurim into Hashem's domain.
With the Levites, the first t'nufah occurred after Bnei Yisrael gave "authorization," so to speak, by resting their hands upon them – and then they were "from Bnei Yisrael" (Bamidbar 8,10-11). The second waving took place after the offering of the sacrifices to atone for the Levites, at which point, "the Levites will be unto Me" (verses 13-14).
Another example can be brought from our wedding ceremonies, when a woman leaves her unmarried state and becomes married. The first stage, the kiddushin, when the groom consecrates his bride to him with a ring, means that she is now forbidden to marry anyone else; she has left her unmarried state. The second stage, that of the chupah and the Seven Blessings, is the nisuin, in which she actually enters into a married state with her husband.
When did the two wavings or liftings of the bikurim take place, and what do they each symbolize?
With a Happy Heart
The bringing of the bikurim begins with a general declaration by the land-owner, who says to the priest:
... הִגַּדְתִּי הַיּוֹם לַה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ כִּי בָאתִי אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה' לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ לָתֶת לָנוּ.
I have said today before Hashem your G-d that I have come
to the Land that Hashem vowed to our forefathers that He would give us.
This is an expression of acknowledgement and thanks for the fact that G-d fulfilled the oath He made to our Patriarchs and brought us to the Land of Israel. At this point, as the next verse tells us, it is appropriate to wave the bikurim, symbolizing their removal from the giver's domain.
But a general declaration is not sufficient, and therefore we need another stage, as written in the next verses:
וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ: אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה...
You shall respond and say before Hashem your G-d:
Laban the Aramite wished to wipe out my father,
who descended to Egypt…
וַיָּרֵעוּ אתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים וַיְעַנּוּנוּ... וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרַיִם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה... וּבְאֹתוֹת וּבְמֹפְתִים.
The Egyptians did us evil and tortured us…
And G-d took us out of Egypt with a strong arm… and with signs and wonders.
We see here that it is important to be specific when giving thanks. We must detail all the great acts of kindness that Hashem did for us, from the day we went down to Egypt as a small family, and up to the time we became a great and strong nation departing Egypt amidst great wonders and miracles.
Why is this important? Because by going into detail and truly understanding in depth the greatness of the Divine kindnesses, it is easier for us to give the first-fruits in a whole-hearted manner and with true joy – and only then do they truly pass into Hashem's domain. This is because Hashem accepts our gifts only when they are given with joy and with total desire. This is why we need the second waving – symbolizing this higher level of gratefulness.
In King David's Time
A perfect example of a whole-hearted contribution accompanied by true joy is when Israel contributed to the construction of the Holy Temple during the times of King David. We read in Divrei HaYamim:
וַיִּשְׂמְחוּ הָעָם עַל הִתְנַדְּבָם, כִּי בְּלֵב שָׁלֵם הִתְנַדְּבוּ לַה', וְגַם דָּוִיד הַמֶּלֶךְ שָׂמַח שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה.
The nation rejoiced in having contributed,
for they gave to Hashem whole-heartedly,
and King David, too, was greatly happy. (Chronicles I 29,9)
וַיְבָרֶךְ דָּוִיד אֶת ה' לְעֵינֵי כָּל הַקָּהָל... וְיָדַעְתִּי אֱ-לֹהַי כִּי אַתָּה בֹּחֵן לֵבָב, וּמֵישָׁרִים תִּרְצֶה, אֲנִי בְּיֹשֶׁר לְבָבִי הִתְנַדַּבְתִּי כָל אֵלֶּה, וְעַתָּה עַמְּךָ הַנִּמְצְאוּ פֹה, רָאִיתִי בְשִׂמְחָה לְהִתְנַדֶּב לָךְ.
David blessed G-d before the entire congregation [and said]…
I know, my G-d, that You discern the heart, and desire uprightness.
I have donated all this with the uprightness of my heart,
and now I see Your nation gathered here giving to You with joy. (verses 10-17)
Let us now return to our second question above: Why does the Torah not use the word t'nufah, waving, when talking about the bikurim? Why does it use the word והנחתו, you shall lay it down, instead?
The answer is that the Torah wants to hint to us this truth: The axis around which the entire passage revolves is our arrival in the Land of Israel and the chosen site of the Holy Temple. It makes this point by using a word that stems from the same root as the word for placing down the bikurim. Earlier in the Book of D'varim, the Torah tells us:
כִּי לֹא בָאתֶם עַד עָתָּה אֶל הַמְּנוּחָה וְאֶל הַנַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נתֵן לָךְ.
For you have not yet come to the rest and the inheritance
that Hashem has given you…
וַעֲבַרְתֶּם אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן...וְהֵנִיחַ לָכֶם מִכָּל אֹיְבֵיכֶם מִסָּבִיב וִישַׁבְתֶּם בֶּטַח.
You shall cross the Jordan… and Hashem will relieve you from all your enemies around
and you will dwell in security. (D'varim 12,9-10)
Give Thanks – or Else
Undoubtedly, the demand made upon man to pass the test of gratefulness and to thank G-d by bringing first-fruits, is for the purpose of improving our character and making us better. In Parashat Ekev, earlier in the Book of D'varim, we find another important insight into this concept:
וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ.
You shall eat and be satiated and bless Hashem your G-d
on the good land that He has given you. (8,10)
This verse refers, of course, to the obligation to recite Grace After Meals, Birkat Hamazon, and thus express our thanks and appreciation. But the Torah also emphasizes here the negative consequences of not showing appreciation:
הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו
אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם.
Guard yourself lest you forget Hashem your G-d, and not observe His commandments, laws and statutes that I command you today. (verse 11)
That is, if we ignore that G-d gave us this Land and its produce, we are liable to next disavow G-d's Torah and its commandments. For as the Torah continues:
הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פּן תִּשְׁכַּח... וְאָמַרְתָּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה.
…Lest you say in your heart, 'My own strength and wealth has brought me this valor.' (verse 17)
We have seen that the trait that begins our weekly portion of Ki Tavo is gratitude. What is the opposite of this trait? The answer is: The ungratefulness of Amon and Moav, mentioned in the previous weekly portion of Ki Tetze.
We read last week that Amon and Moav must never be allowed to marry into the Jewish Nation:
לֹא יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי בִּקְהַל ה', גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי לֹא יָבֹא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל ה' עַד עוֹלָם.
An Amonite and Moabite – even the tenth generation –
shall not enter the congregation of G-d, forever. (D'varim 23,4)
The Torah immediately explains why it is so tough on Amon and Moav:
עַל דְּבַר אֲשֶׁר לֹא קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם בַּלֶּחֶם וּבַמַּיִם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם, וַאֲשֶׁר שָׂכַר עָלֶיךָ אֶת בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר מִפְּתוֹר אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם לְקַלֲלֶךָּ.
Because they did not greet you with bread and water on your way out of Egypt
and because they hired Bilam ben Beor to curse you. (verse 5)
Was this really such a terrible sin? Was it worse than what the Egyptians did to the Jewish slaves, namely, killing their children and oppressing them with great cruelty? It does not seem so – and yet, despite the terrible things the Egyptians did to us, the Torah does not treat them as harshly:
...לֹא תְתַעֵב מִצְרִי כִּי גֵר הָיִיתָ בְאַרְצוֹ.
בָּנִים אֲשֶׁר יִוָּלְדוּ לָהֶם, דּוֹר שְׁלִישִׁי יָבא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל ה'.
Do not despise the Egyptian, for you were a foreigner in his land.
Children born to them in the third generation after conversion
may enter G-d's congregation. (verses 8-9)
And even regarding Edom, who did not allow Israel to pas through their land and purchase food and drink, the Torah states merely, "Do not despite the Edomite, for he is your brother" (verse 8). Why are Moav and Amon treated so much more harshly?
To understand the severity of the betrayal of Moav and Amon in not helping Israel, we must return to B'reishit and the story of how Avraham saved their father:
וַיְהִי בְּשַׁחֵת אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת עָרֵי הַכִּכָּר, וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת אַבְרָהָם, וַיְשַׁלַּח אֶת לוֹט מִתּוֹךְ הַהֲפֵכָה בַּהֲפֹךְ אֶת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר יָשַׁב בָּהֵן לוֹט.
After G-d destroyed the cities of the plain (Sodom and Gomorrah),
He remembered Avraham, and so when He overturned the cities in which Lot lived,
He allowed Lot to escape. (B'reishit 19,29)
We see clearly that Lot, and his wife and two daughters – the mothers of Moav and Amon – were saved in the merit of his uncle Avraham. How dare they return the favor by ignoring his descendants' request for bread and water during their escape from their cruel taskmasters?! And they did not even suffice with that: but Balak, the King of Moav, hired the sorcerer Bilam to curse Israel and destroy them!
We stated above that two levels of gratefulness are required, as symbolized by the two wavings:
- Gratefulness as a manifestation of justice; measure for measure;
- Repaying a favor out of a pure desire to do good.
The opposite side of the coin, as performed by Amon and Moav, has two parallel levels of wrongdoing:
- Turning their back on one who has done them a kindness; ungratefulness.
- Repaying them with evil, for the purpose of harming them.
We see that Amon and Moav sunk to both levels of ungratefulness: denial of the good that was done to them, and paying it back with the opposite. They thus showed that they were not worthy of the good that Avraham showed them, and that they truly should have been destroyed together with Sodom and Gomorra. Just as these two evil cities were smothered with Divine salt forever, totally detached from the world of kindness and goodness, so too must Amon and Moav now be treated in the same way – and not be allowed to ever attach themselves to the Jewish nation, which is predicated on goodness and compassion.
Nations that forfeited their connection with goodness can never marry into the Jewish People, whose very Identity Card is gratefulness, integrity, and goodness.
The Wonders of the Body
When we come to thank G-d for the wonders of our existence, do we know the extent of what He has done for us? When we say the Modeh Ani prayer (I Thank You, G-d) every morning when we wake up, do we know all the details of the kindness – as we are taught to list when we bring the bikurim?
Let us take this opportunity to present some data on just one aspect of the many miracles that make up our physical bodies: Our bloodstream.
- Our bloodstream passes through veins, arteries and capillaries that together run a total length of 100,000 kilometers – 2.5 times the circumference of the planet Earth.
- Within our bloodstream are 25,000 billion – 25 trillion! – red blood cells. If we were to pile up all these cells atop each other, they would form a tower 50 kilometers high.
- Every red blood cell contains 270 million molecules of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin.
- Each molecule of hemoglobin has 10,000 atoms.
- Every red blood cell lives for four months, during which time it travels from the lungs to the body and back again 75,000 times.
- Three million red blood cells die every second, and three million new ones are formed every second in the bone marrow to replace them.
- One trillion platelets, or trombocytes, circulate in the blood. Their job is to promote blood clotting, repair cuts in the veins and arteries, and assure a steady blood flow.
- The bloodstream also has white blood cells – 36 billion of them, whose job it is to fight disease and foreign bodies.
- A human heart beats 2.5 billion times during an average lifetime.
- The billions of capillaries all together are about 40,000 kilometers in length. They are so narrow that red blood cells can only pass through in single file…
Now that we begin to know what we mean when we say Modeh Ani, it is more likely that we will say it with greater joy and awe.