Our parashah opens with the mitzvah known as Bikkurim. "It will
be when you enter the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you as an
inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell in it. You shall take of
the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your
Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, and you shall put it in a
basket and go to the place that Hashem, your G-d, will choose, to make
His Name rest there." Rashi writes: "This tells us that Bnei Yisrael
were not under the obligation to bring first fruits until they had
conquered the land and divided it." However, the Midrash Sifra makes
a seemingly contradictory statement: "Do this mitzvah so that you will
enter Eretz Yisrael in its merit." If we need not perform this
mitzvah until we enter the Land, then we cannot inherit the Land in
the merit of performing the mitzvah!
In reality, writes R' Shalom Massas z"l (Sephardic Chief Rabbi of
Yerushalayim), there is no contradiction. Rashi is correct that the
laws of Bikkurim did not take effect until the Land was conquered.
However, the attitude that this mitzvah is meant to teach is a
prerequisite to conquering the Land.
What is the attitude referred to? The midrash says that Moshe
Rabbeinu saw that the Bet Hamikdash would be destroyed one day and
Bikkurim no longer would be brought. Therefore, he established three
daily prayers. R' Massas explains: Both praying and bringing the
first fruits to the Temple as a gift are expressions of our belief
that all that we have comes from Hashem and we are entirely dependent
When Hashem promised Eretz Yisrael to Avraham, Avraham responded
(Bereishit 15:8), "How do I know I will inherit it? Avraham meant,
says R' Massas: How do I know that my children will recognize their
Creator and thereby merit to receive the Land? It is to remind us of
this that our verse says, "from your Land," but "that Hashem, your G-
d, gives you." (Ve'cham Ha'shemesh)
"Then you shall say before Hashem, your G-d, `I have removed
the holy things from the house, and I have also given it to
the Levite, to the proselyte, to the orphan, and to the
widow, according to whatever commandment You commanded me;
`lo avarti' / I have not transgressed any of your
commandments, `lo shachachti' / and I have not forgotten'."
R' Moshe Shick z"l (1805-1879; rabbi of Huszt, Hungary) writes:
Prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, the priestly function was
performed by the firstborn, not by the family of Aharon. If not for
that sin, the bikkurim / first fruits and the terumot and ma'asrot /
tithes would not be given to the Kohanim and Levi'im. Rather, they
would have remained "at home" with each family's first born.
Therefore, a Jew declares when he finishes giving all of the
gifts from his produce: "I, through my participation in the Golden
Calf, have removed the holy things from the house, etc." How so? "Lo
avarti" / "I transgressed the prohibition that begins with the word
`lo', namely Shmot 20:3: `Lo yihyeh' / `You shall not recognize the
gods of others in My presence'." Moreover, "Lo shachachti" / "I
forgot another prohibition that begins with the word `lo', i.e., Shmot
20:4: `Lo ta'aseh' / `You shall not make for yourself a carved image
nor any likeness'."
(Maharam Shick Al Ha'Torah)
"All these curses will come upon you and pursue you and
overtake you until you are destroyed . . ." (28:45)
Our Sages note several differences between the Tochachah / rebuke
in this parashah and the Tochachah in Sefer Vayikra (26:27-44). For
example, all of the warnings and curses in our parashah are worded in
the singular, while those in Vayikra are worded in the plural. There
also are differences in how this Tochachah and the one in Vayikra may
be read in public. The Gemara (Megillah 31b) states that the entire
Tochachah in Vayikra must be read without interruption, while the
Tochachah in our parashah may be divided into two or more aliyot.
Ramban z"l (Spain and Eretz Yisrael; 1194-1270) teaches that the
Tochachah in Vayikra relates to the short exile which followed the
destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash, while the Tochachah in our
parashah describes the longer exile that has followed the destruction
of the Second Temple. In light of Ramban's observation, R' Moshe
Avigdor Amiel z"l (Chief Rabbi of Antwerp and Tel Aviv; died 1935)
offers an explanation for the differences between the two Tochachot
and for the harsh language of this Tochachah (for example, the verse
quoted above). He writes:
There are two circumstances in which a bet din / Jewish court may
impose the penalty of makkot / lashes: (1) if a person transgresses
certain negative commandments, for example, the prohibition on making
an idol, and (2) if a person refuses to perform an affirmative
commandment, for example, if a person refuses to wear tefilin or lift
a lulav. What is the difference between these two cases of lashes?
One who transgresses a negative commandment always gets 39 lashes
(assuming he is physically fit to withstand them), while a person who
refuses to perform a mitzvah is whipped until he gives up his
obstinance. Depending on the person, he may receive one lash or
hundreds. Chazal go so far as to say that a person who refuses to
wear tefilin, take a lulav or perform another affirmative commandment
should be whipped until his soul leaves him (or until he agrees to
changes his ways).
There is another difference between these two types of lashes.
When the 39 lashes are administered to a transgressor, each lash
brings him closer to atonement. Not so the one who is whipped for
refusing to perform a mitzvah. The more lashes he gets, the angrier
G-d becomes with him, for only a truly wicked person would remain
obstinate in the face of such punishment.
The first Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jewish people
transgressed three negative commandments -- idolatry, adultery and
murder. This is why the first Tochachah is in the plural; the
punishment for transgressing a negative commandment -- 39 lashes -- is
the same for every person. And, the punishment is finite. Moreover,
just as each lash brings the transgressor closer to atonement, so each
curse brought the generation of the first exile closer to forgiveness
until, after 70 short years, they returned to the Land.
In contrast, the second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of
unwarranted hatred. In essence, the Jewish people refused to perform
the affirmative commandment of "You shall love your fellow as
yourself." For such a refusal, the lashing is not finite; it
continues until the obstinate person repents or until he expires.
This is why the Tochachah says: "All these curses will come upon you
and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed." This also
explains why the curses in our parashah are worded in the singular and
why it is permitted to interrupt the reading. The curses are worded
in the singular because every person's breaking point is different;
thus, the Tochachah must be tailored to each individual. And, we are
permitted to interrupt the reading of the Tochachah because we need
time to reflect on our lashings. Have we absorbed enough punishment
or do we need more?
This idea explains what we have witnessed over the last 2000
years, i.e., alternating periods of lashings and reprieve. We would
err to assume that a period of relative quiet signals the end of the
exile, explains R' Amiel. Rather, even the one who is whipped because
he refuses to perform a mitzvah must be given short reprieves to
reflect on his alternatives. We, too, must reflect on this as the
Tochachah is read.
(Derashot El Ami)
R' Moshe Zvi Aryeh Bick z"l
R' Moshe Bick was born in 1911 in Miedzbosz, Ukraine - where the
Ba'al Shem Tov had held court more than 150 years earlier -- but grew
up in New York. He is recognized as one of the first gedolim to be
raised on American soil.
R' Bick studied under R' Moshe Soloveitchik at the Yeshiva
Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (now part of Yeshiva University)
and attended New York City public schools at night. Nevertheless, the
future R' Bick was unique, refusing to surrender his chassidic garb or
his beard. He also expressed his uniqueness at a young age by
preparing for a "career" as a posek / halachic authority at a time
when most American Jews did not imagine America would ever need a
posek. (Heard from R' Julius Hyatt shlita, one of R' Bick's
acquaintances from that period.)
At age 21, R' Bick was hired by a shul in the Bronx. Every
congregant without exception was in awe of the congregation's rabbi, a
sight rarely seen in most communities. (Heard from one of his
congregants). In the Bronx, R' Bick founded schools for both boys and
girls. He was also a master of chessed and charity; stories are told
of how he showed up to bargain on behalf of a congregant who was a
first-time home buyer. Later, he resettled in the Boro Park
neighborhood of Brooklyn.
To be the best posek he could be, R' Bick's studies included not
only book-learning, but hands-on shechitah, safrut (writing Torah
scrolls), and milah. Years later, he would encourage young men to
study to be halachic authorities and not just yeshiva lecturers. He
was recognized as a master posek by both chassidic and non-chassidic
communities, both in New York and in Israel. Yet, when he was asked
why he did not publish his halachic correspondence as other rabbis do,
he said, "What am I, some kind of gaon / sage?""
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