For the week ending 9 September 2017 / 18 Elul 5777

Parshat Ki Tavo

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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When Bnei Yisrael dwell in the Land of Israel, its first fruits are to be taken to the Temple and given to the kohen in a ceremony expressing recognition that it is G-d who guides the history of the Jewish People throughout all ages. This passage forms one of the central parts of the Haggadah that we read at the Passover Seder. On the last day of Pesach of the fourth and seventh years of the seven-year shemitta cycle, a person must recite a disclosure stating that he has indeed distributed the tithes to the appropriate people in the prescribed manner. With this mitzvah Moshe concludes the commandments that G-d has told him to give to the Jewish People. Moshe exhorts them to walk in G-d's ways, because they are set aside as a treasured people to G-d. When Bnei Yisrael cross the Jordan River they are to make a new commitment to the Torah. Huge stones are to be erected and the Torah is to be written on them in the world's seventy primary languages, after which they are to be covered over with a thin layer of plaster. Half the tribes will stand on Mount Gerizim, and half on Mount Eval, and the levi'im will stand in a valley between the two mountains. There the levi'im will recite 12 commandments and all the people will answer "amen" to the blessings and the curses. Moshe then details the blessings that will be bestowed upon Bnei Yisrael. These blessings are both physical and spiritual. However if the Jewish People do not keep the Torah, Moshe details a chilling picture of destruction, resulting in exile and wandering among the nations.


The Red Carpet Treatment

“That you should take of the first of every fruit of the ground that your bring in from your Land that the L-rd your G-d gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the L-rd your G-d will choose to make His Name rest there.” (26:2)

I once heard Rabbi Noach Orlowek say to someone who had just complimented him on the shiur (lecture) he had given, "Thank you so much. Rabbis also need encouragement."

If you were to ask me as a rebbe (teacher) in a Ohr Somayach, what is the most important quality that a rebbe must have, I would say the ability to give one's talmidim (students) the belief that they can succeed.

The Mishna in Tractate Bikurim says that when the bearers of the “first fruits” approached Jerusalem, even hired workers in the middle of their work were obliged to down tools and greet them, saying: "Welcome, our brothers from (such and such place)!" And a flute played in front of them all the way until they reached the Temple Mount with their offerings.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 33a and Chullin 54b) points out an apparent contradiction to this. It says that a hired worker is forbidden to stop his work even to stand for a Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar). Rabbi Yosi Bar Avin resolves this matter: "In the case of bikurim, if the bringers don't receive an enthusiastic reception there is a possibility that next year they won't want to go through the trouble of bringing their first fruits up to Jerusalem at all.”

There is something puzzling about this: The halacha says that a hired worker is forbidden to stop work even to greet a Torah scholar — in other words that's the right thing to do. Nevertheless when it comes to bikurim, if the workers don't stop and greet those bringing their bikurim they are considered in the wrong. But surely, those who are bringing the bikurim should overcome their feelings of lethargy and rouse themselves even though they will not get a “red-carpet” reception! After all, it's their mitzvah.

Even if a talmid lacks the appropriate motivation to fulfill his mitzvah of learning Torah, but the rebbe has not done everything to roll out the red carpet for him — to imbue him with the enthusiasm and the belief that he can succeed — the responsibility is the rebbe's and not the talmid's.

My father was a furniture manufacturer for most of his adult life. He used to say to me, "There's no such thing as a bad worker — just a bad boss."

If that's true of furniture, how much more are we, as teachers and mentors, responsible for the success of our wards?

  • Source: based on the Chiddushei Halev

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