Torah Weekly

For the week ending 20 September 2008 / 20 Elul 5768

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 Yisraelcross 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.


Self Service

“Because you did not serve the L-rd, your G-d, with joy and with a good heart, when you had everything in abundance, you will serve your enemies in hunger and thirst …lacking everything.” (28:47-48)

On a recent flight in the States I leaned forward and pulled out my in-flight buying guide.

I was amazed at what I saw.

I gazed, awe-struck, at products whose ingenuity was worthy of a James Bond movie: a pair of sterling silver monogrammed cuff-links for my pajamas; a tomato ketchup bottle-reamer that extracts the last gram of ketchup from the bottom of the bottle; a nose-tweezer for my pet-poodle…

I’ve never seen a magazine so full of things I didn’t need.

We live in a world where there are solutions to problems that we didn’t even know we had. (Of course, no one has problems any more – just “issues”.)

Advertising is symptomatic of the age.

Our society defines itself by its needs.

Our mindset is: “I need, therefore I am.” The fact that I am in need of something, however small, is the clearest indication that I am still here.

What happens when we define ourselves by our needs?

The outcome is that we can never be happy. A person who defines his happiness by the absence of needs is doomed never to be happy, because a person always has unfulfilled and unfulfillable needs. When we define ourselves by our needs we condemn ourselves to a lifetime of frustration. Nobody dies with even half his or her wishes fulfilled.

When we turn on the television, what do we see? “Do you have bad breath? You need PHEW-gard®!”

“Are you tired? Run down? Do you need a break?” “Listen. We’re offering you two free weeks in a Russian heavy-plutonium disposal plant to ‘cool off’ and put the glow back in your life.” etc. etc. etc.

I need, therefore I am.

The Jewish view of the world could not be more different. In fact it’s the opposite. Judaism looks at life as a series of moments to give. Life is a constantly unraveling saga of opportunities to give, in big ways and in small ways. We can give a large check to a worthy cause, or we can give a word of encouragement to someone who needs it. It’s all the same. We can give a liver to someone who is dying without one or we can say “Thank you!” to the person who washes the floors.

There is no such thing as a small gift.

Because the world was made as a place of giving. That’s its purpose. That’s its function.

Nowadays, many people find it difficult to believe in G-d. Why is that?

The Torah teaches that Man was made in the “image of G-d.” How can Man be an image of a Being who is indescribably beyond any adjective or comparison, whether physical or spiritual?

When the spiritual masters teach that when the Torah says that Man was made in the image of G-d, it means that just like He is Merciful, so we should be merciful. Just like He is The Giver, we must also be givers. Needless to say our giving can never approach His giving, because His is a giving that is impossible to reciprocate – He already owns everything, and He doesn’t need anything. But, as much as we can, G‑d has put us into this world to be givers.

Thus, the purpose of this world, its design, is to be a series of opportunities to give.

This is why so many people fail to see G-d in the world, and in their lives. For they conceive of the world as a place of taking, of fulfilling their unending needs. That’s not what the world looks like. We will fail to see the Hand of the Creator if we look at the world ‘through the wrong end of the telescope.’ This world will look like a place where G‑d is playing ‘dirty pool’, because we can never fulfill our desires here. But that’s not the way the world looks ‘from G-d’s point of view’. From His “point of view” the world was made as a facility for giving.

Let's take this a step further. Let's get really deep. Are you sitting comfortably? Then, I'll begin.

As we said before, real happiness means giving. The reverse is also true. Giving is an expression of real happiness. When a person is truly happy, it manifests itself as an overflowing of feelings of inner joy and fulfillment.

Secondly, we said that G-d created man in His image.

So just as our giving is an expression of a deep internal happiness, it must be that this giving is a reflection, however distant, of G-d's giving, which in turn is an expression of His happiness.

Obviously, we can never have the slightest idea of what G-d's happiness consists.

But it is clear that G-d's giving, his chesed, is an outflow of a happiness in the fullness and perfection of His being.

G-d's giving comes from an overflowing of His nature. It is an expression of Who He is.

Obviously, G-d's nature, His inner happiness, His fullness of being, are matters that are totally beyond our understanding in every way possible. However, one thing is clear. G-d made us in His image, and in the most distant of echoes our happiness is a reflection of His happiness.

In His goodness, therefore, G-d implanted in man the potential for a joy akin to His, a joy in being, a joy of being fulfilled. It follows that every elevated human being — the true giver — resembles his Creator. In this very fundamental way a person's giving flows from an inner joy similar, in some sense, to the joy of the Creator.

When a person does a mitzvah he can feel happy for one of two reasons. He can feel happy that he ‘chalked up a few more brownie points’. Or, alternatively, he can feel happiness from the mitzvah itself. In learning Torah it often happens that we enjoy the process of the learning as much as the fact that we have learned something.

This inner joy resembles the intrinsic joy that we spoke of above.

Our feeling when we do a mitzvah gives us a yardstick to the quality of our mitzvot. Are we suffused with a feeling of joy at doing the will of the Creator, or are we going through the motions without joy and without enthusiasm? Are our mitzvot an outpouring of the heart, or merely a drudge?

With this in mind, maybe we can understand a difficult aspect of this week's parsha.

“Because you did not serve the L-rd, your G-d, with joy and with a good heart, when you had everything in abundance, you will serve your enemies in hunger and thirst …lacking everything.” (28:47-48)

What's so terrible about serving G-d without joy, without a good heart, that it merits such dire consequences? What makes serving G-d without joy seemingly the gravest sin of all?

Service without joy, without heart, is no service at all. It shows that we are needers and not givers. It shows we have totally missed the point of life. It shows that our service is really self-service.

  • Sources: Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler and others

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