Parshas Ki Savo
A Matter of Attitudes and Altitudes
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Declare before G-d, your G-d, "I have removed all the holy portions from
the house, and have given the due to the Levi, the proselyte, the orphan,
and the widow, according to Your commandments which You have commanded me.
I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.
One of the heaviest parshios in the Torah begins with mitzvos of dealing
with produce of the land. First, there is the mitzvah of bikurim -- the
mitzvah to bring the first fruits up to the Temple, which, in itself, was
quite a procedure and celebration. Next, there is the mitzvah to verbally
verify that all tithes due have been given to their respective recipients,
as mentioned above.
Then come the blessings and the curses, all ninety-eight of them.
What is the connection between this and this?
The Talmud answers this question with the following point:
Rabbah bar Bar Chanah said in the name of Rebi Yochanan, who said it in the
name of Rebi Yehudah bar Illai: Come and see how the later generations
differed from the earlier generations. The earlier generations used to
bring their fruits through the gate (Tosfos, q.v. Troksimon) in order to
make them subject to tithes. The later generations used to bring them over
the roof and through outside enclosures in order to exempt them from tithes
For, as the Talmud explains, produce is not subject to tithes until it
"sees" the house, which, as Rashi explains, means coming in through the
gate, and not through the courtyard or the roof. Tosfos explains that this
technical loophole, based upon the above posuk, "I have removed all the
holy portions from the house " only works on a temporary basis. However,
one can, perhaps, assume that the same people who relied upon this leniency
on a temporary basis would have done so on a permanent basis, if they could
Why? Because, leniencies in halachah exist for people for whom, for one
reason or another, alternatives to be more strict do not exist. They are,
ideally-speaking, for people whom would like to do the halachah in the BEST
WAY POSSIBLE, but, are prevented from doing so for reasons beyond their
control. As the Talmud says, the Torah was not given to Ministering Angels,
but, to humans who have physical limitations, and Halachah takes this into
However, when leniencies become a way of life, a way to skirt the true law
with what people rationalize is a "clear conscience," then, it is called
"yeridos hadoros," a spiritual lessening of the generation. It is
indicative of a lack of love of G-d, of Torah, of His mitzvos, and, a lack
of belief in reward in the World-to-Come, which can only come from
self-sacrifice in This World.
It is also indicative of the beginning of the end, the path to curse as
opposed to blessing.
Consider the following article:
The Cheater Principle: Americans are indulging in old-fashioned petty
cheating like never before.
By EILEEN DASPIN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
For Mike, a recent cross-country flight was business as usual: He boarded
the plane early, found his seat in coach and tucked his bag into the
overhead bin. He then moved back up the aisle and settled into a plush
leather post in first class.
"It was exhilarating," says Mr. , who works at a TV network in Los Angeles
and has self-upgraded four or five times recently. "I felt like I robbed a
Americans may have fatter wallets these days, but you'd never know it from
the way they're nickel and diming the system. In what may be one of the
oddest aspects of the New Economy, businesses across the country are
reporting an upturn in old-fashioned petty cheating. Instead of doing well
by doing good, many people are doing well by acting badly: barreling
through toll booths without paying, sneaking onto expensive golf courses,
even stiffing restaurants for the bill. Often, these are consumers who
could easily afford to pay but view their actions as a kind of protest over
high prices or poor service. Others simply fret that this might be the tail
end of the economic boom -- and want to grab what they can now.
So they're resorting to a new brand of self-help. The National Association
of Convenience Stores says that, even after adjusting for higher gasoline
prices, there has been more than a threefold increase this year in the
amount of money lost to people who drive away from the pump without paying.
Another scheme: buying items such as a party dress or a power tool, using
them and then taking them back; retail consulting firm Doneger Group
estimates that practice has jumped about 15% over the past few years. At
many restaurants, theft of everything from silverware to bottles of wine is
also up; Aureole in Las Vegas says it lost $10,000 in Limoges ashtrays
alone in its first two weeks of operations last year.
"The taking-advantage people have gotten worse," says Bud Konheim,
president of designer Nicole Miller. "There used to be a mentality that I
don't take something that's not mine. Now, it's, "Look at everyone getting
rich. How about me?' "
Take Kevin. The New Jersey engineer says that "on principle," he never pays
the tolls on the Garden State Parkway. His reason: The toll plazas are
badly designed and irritating, with far too many cars converging at the
same time. The state "set up a system so bad, you have to abuse it," he
says. Even if he were to get hit with the standard $250 fine (and he hasn't
yet), he figures it still will have been worth it since he's already busted
through more than 700 tolls at 35 cents a pop.
While people have always chiseled around the rules, this kind of self-help
is especially vexing to proprietors because it seems so unnecessary. Not
only are many of the perpetrators relatively well-off, but the objects of
their transgressions often carry remarkably little value.
Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passages in San Mateo, Calif., says she
has grown particularly frustrated with people trying to get full-price
refunds on books bought from discounters. She turns them away. "You want to
send them to Miss Manners," says Ms. Petrocelli
But snuffing out these self-helpers may be an uphill battle. After all,
since most of this stuff isn't regarded as serious enough to warrant fines
or prosecution, a lot of cheaters don't even care about getting caught.
"The repercussions are worth it," says Mr. , adding that even though he's
been busted a number of times on airplanes, the humiliation of getting sent
back to coach is nothing compared to the thrill of a free ride. Each conned
upgrade has saved him a couple thousand dollars and made him feel like a
million bucks: "You transform into this person who believes they should be
in first class."
End of article; I only used half of it. Just a lot of hype? Just a breaking
I agree that not everyone is like this, and maybe not even the vast
majority of the world's population. However, more people are like this than
ought to be, and, though some people would never go as far as some of those
mentioned in the article -- that may only be today. Attitudes are slipping,
and moral standards are vanishing, and an eerie, distorted sense of
self-indignation is seeping into the Western mind.
People, a frighteningly large amount of people, feel they are being "ripped
off" by "something," or by "someone," "somewhere." Therefore, they "feel"
justified in viewing other people's property as being rightfully their own.
Today, one man's theft is another man's "correction" of the system.
It might be kind of an amusing story if the Torah did not explain in
Parashas Noach (with the help of Rashi), that it was this attitude towards
the property of others that angered G-d to the point that He brought upon
mankind the massive Flood in the year 1656 (from creation). If you know
Chumash, it is a curious repetition of history. If you BELIEVE in Chumash,
it is very disturbing echo of history.
From where did such disrespect for G-d and others come? What is the
source of such selfishness and self-indignation?
It comes, explain the rabbis, from not being happy with one's portion,
which, in turn, comes from a lack of belief that all that G-d does He does
for the good -- for OUR good. In fact, one of the most important tell-tale
signs of a godless society is a thieving one. First it starts with
"stealing" through leniencies (the tithes belonged to others) -- taking
advantage of situations that don't really apply to us -- and then, it moves
its ways, slowly, toward all kinds of extremes -- and, the rest of Parashas
Ki Savo that follows, the not-so-pleasant part.
Are we too far gone? That remains to be seen, and regardless, still, we
must resist the temptation to follow such a path, and work, instead, on a
counter-revolution of attitude.
G-d will exile you and the king you set over yourselves to a foreign and
unfamil-iar nation ... (Devarim 28:36)
The guards that Yeravam set up along the way were to prevent Israel (i.e.,
the Ten Tribes) from going up (to the Temple) on the holidays. Hoshea came
along and removed them, but still, Israel did not go up for the holidays.
The Holy One, Blessed is He, said: For those years that Israel did not go
up let them go into captivity! (Gittin 88a)
After the Twelve Tribes split into two parts, the ten tribes of Israel to
the north, and, the two remaining tribes to the south, they acted as
independent nations. To the north was the Kingdom of Israel, under the
leadership of Yeravam ben Nevat from the tribe of Ephraim, and, to the
south was the Kingdom of Yehudah, under the rightful kingship of Rechavam,
son of Shlomo HaMelech.
The Temple, however, remained in the territory of Yehudah, which posed a
problem for Yeravam ben Nevat. For, when his constituents used to go up to
Jerusalem on the holidays, they would see only the king from Yehudah
sitting in the Temple courtyard, a reminder that true Jewish kings descend
only from the tribe of Yehudah. This, of course, undermined Yeravam's right
to be a king, and, terribly damaged his ego.
Hence, Yeravam did the most logically evil thing: he stopped the tribes
under his rulership from going up to the Temple at any time. Apparently his
plan succeeded, and the people lost all connection to Jerusalem and the
Temple, for, even when the road to the Temple opened up again, the tribes
of the Kingdom of Israel did not travel them by choice.
Like with all such midrashic accounts, we have to understand the
connection, that is, how the punishment fit the crime. Why would the
failure to come up to the Temple on the Shalosh Regalim (literally, "Three
Holidays" of Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos) result in exile and captivity?
What does Jewish exile and captivity have in common with the Jewish
holidays (since G-d punishes "measure-for-measure")?
Exile is meant to serve one basic purpose for the Jew: to cause humility
that leads to the recognition that all we become is only with G-d's help,
whether that help is visible or not. The Shalosh Regalim acted in the same
way, for, going up to the Temple and being a "guest" in G-d's house
reminded us that everywhere we go we in life we are only a "guest" in G-d's
house. Going up to the Temple on the Shalosh Regalim emphasized and
reinforced this message.
Physically, Jerusalem and the Temple were not the highest spots in the
world, but, spiritually, their altitude was high enough to gain a clearer
picture of man within the context of G-d's history, something so sorely
lacking then, and, today.
Furthermore, unifying in Jerusalem around the Temple and the banner of
Torah resulted in a miniature Mt. Sinai experience. Going up to the Temple
on the Shalosh Regalim was a way to tie the Jewish people to their past, to
reconnect them to their historical mission. It is THIS specifically that
maintains our right to remain on the land, and to live in freedom.
When the tribes of the Kingdom of Israel showed no interest in going up to
Jerusalem and the Temple, even once they were physically permitted to do
so, they revealed their lack of connection to Jewish history, Jewish
purpose, and the land itself. Exile and captivity were the inevitable, but
G-d will bring you into Egypt again by ship, by the route I told you that
you would no longer see. You will offer yourselves to be sold to your
enemies as servants and hand-maids, but no one will want to buy you
[wishing instead to exterminate you]. These are the words of the covenant,
which G-d commanded Moshe to make with the children of Israel in the land
of Moav, besides the covenant which He made with them at Chorev. (Devarim
There is an interesting disagreement between Rebi Akiva and the evil Turnus
Rufus, which amounts to, in the end, an argument about the relationship
between G-d and the Jewish people. Turnus Rufus argues that the Jewish
people are but slaves of the A'lmighty, and the posuk he quotes to prove
his point is:
Because the Jewish people are My servants. (Vayikra 25:55)
Rebi Akiva, however, begged to disagree (even though doing so could, and
did cost him his life in the end). He told him that we, the Jewish people,
are called "children of G-d," as the posuk from a few weeks ago said:
You are children to G-d, your G-d (Devarim 14:1)
Turnus Rufus says to Rebi Akiva:
You are called children, and you are called servants. When you do G-d's
will, then you are called "children." But, when you do not do the will of
G-d, then you are called "slaves." At this time, you are not doing the will
of G-d. (Bava Basra 10a)
Hence, the choice is ours, to uphold the Covenant of our ancestors and
remain "children" of G-d, or, to forsake that Covenant, and, perhaps, G-d
forbid, turn against it, and end up being "slaves" to everything else but
truth. Most of this parshah is designed to make us fully aware of the
consequences of each choice, to make us responsible for the direction in
which we walk.
Having said this, let me give you a glimpse of how Kabbalah views the
End-of-Days, of which we are very likely a part.
Ever since Adam HaRishon ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,
life outside the Garden has been about birrur -- separation. This is
because, the main consequence of Adam's eating prematurely, which led
directly to the need for death in the world, was the intermingling of good
and evil, which, up until the sin, had been distinct and distant from each
The birth of Kayin, the first human being ever born with an intrinsic
yetzer hara, was the very embodiment of this tragic and catastrophic
result. Therefore, Tikun Olam -- Rectification of the World -- in advance
of Moshiach and world perfection, is about reversing this process, about
sending good and evil back once again to the respective corners (except
this time, evil will be eliminated for good, literally).
The entire eating process symbolizes this reality. We take in food which,
prior to chewing and digestion, contains both "good" and "bad." The body,
quite phenomenally, somehow can recognize and distinguish each, and
therefore absorbs and makes use of the good, and, rejects the bad. We do
the same thing intellectually when we weight the pros and cons of a idea
when making decisions, and in all aspects of life.
We are not the only ones who work this way. Better than we do this, G-d
does this, but not with food and ideas, but, with us. When the Talmud says:
Just as coming into the land (of Canaan in Yehoshua's time) was only with
120,000 (men above the age of 20), so, too, was the leaving of Egypt with
only 120,000 (men above the age of 20). Rava said: It will be the same in
the time of Moshiach as well! (Sanhedrin 111a)
-- it is alluding to a "weeding out" process spoken about in Kabbalah. Just
like G-d, first through Egyptian slavery, and then through the Ten Plagues,
"weeded out" Jews unworthy of redemption, so too, says Rava, will G-d use
modern day events to "weed out" those unworthy of experiencing and
surviving the Final Redemption.
In case you haven't noticed, changes have taken place over the last one
hundred years, but, even more incredible changes have taken place over the
last five to ten years! The long and short of it is that there seems to be
a polarization taking place within society and around the world. Extremes
are becoming more prevalent, and, middle grounds seem to be fading. Issues
and circumstances are occurring that are "forcing" people to take "sides,"
to reveal their inner feelings and where they actually stand, morally, and
Just a phase of history, a repetition of past periods and destined to pass
just as they did?
Furthermore, the negativity that some groups feel towards Torah and Judaism
is so strong that it is beyond reason, especially when you consider that
the sources are almost all Jewish! In fact, in one e-mail I received this
morning, I received two articles: one from the New York Times praising
Joseph Leiberman for his openly pro-religion stance, condemning the Jewish
groups who criticize him for this, and, taking pride in America's Torah
roots, and, the second article, from an American Jewish group soliciting
funds for anti-Chareidi activities in order to sever their connection to
the Israeli political scene.
In fact, recently, I have a whole list of such articles. As a result,
emotionally (if not intellectually), as an Orthodox Jew, one might begin to
feel more comfortable and respected among the non-Jewish population than
among his or her own secular brethren!
Ironically, as uncomfortable as this may be, it is not surprising. It is
the fulfillment of prophecies over 2,500 years old, and, it has all bee
predicted by the Talmud. In fact, if such Jews were to familiarize
themselves with the various sources that speak about the time just in
advance of Moshiach, they might second-guess themselves and wonder if they
are remaining on the wrong side of sieve. They might consider how their
ideas and emotions are pushing them against Torah tradition, especially at
a time when the non-Jewish western world is just recovering theirs, and
wonder if they are "pushing out" or, in actuality, being pushed out.
Maybe they can't. However, for the rest of the Jewish population, we have
to take heed. Jewish history is reaching what might be the most important
and final fork in our historical road. On path has a sign that says,
"Children of G-d," while the other path say, "Servants Only." To make the
right choice -- THE right choice -- you'll need a spiritual map, and
perhaps a guide. Which map and which guide you choose will determine the
path you will take, for which you, and only you, can bear full responsibility.
In the article from the New York Times (September 4, 2000), in an article
titled, "The Founders and the Torah," Michael Novack writes (among other
"The best kept secret of American history is that the favorite language of
that founding generation came from the Torah. The founders referred to
their own experiment as the Second Israel. They commissioned a design for
the Great Seal with a symbol recalling the first Israel, for they thought
of themselves as crossing the deserts of Egypt en route to building a 'city
I don't think it was the way Jews can abandon Judaism and live secular
lives that impressed the founding fathers of America; it is not what is
impressing Americans today. The "weeding" process may be in full swing,
and, it is our responsibility to make sure, whoever we are, to end up on
the right side of the Heavenly sieve.
Of Dovid. G-d is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? (Tehillim 27:1)
As of the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, we began, once again, saying
this psalm twice a day, and will continue to do so until Shemini Atzeres.
Some question why Psalm 51, which reveals Dovid HaMelech's broken spirit as
a result of his own sin, is not instead recited as a prelude to Rosh
Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance.
However, I think the answer lies in the very idea of Elul Zman, which, the
rabbis teach alludes to G-d's great love of the Jewish people and His
desire and willingness to wait for our return. Hence, the word "Elul"
itself is said to be an acronym for: Ani l'Dodi v'Dodi li -- I am to my
Beloved and my Beloved is to me. (Shir HaShirim 6:3)
Psalm 27 so eloquently speaks of this relationship, and focuses us on its
profundity. Dovid HaMelech so beautifully yearns:
One thing I asked of G-d, that I shall seek, that I dwell in the House of
G-d all the days of my life! To behold the delight of G-d and to meditate
in His Sanctuary. (4)
To be free of all the distractions of this world that interfere with
intellectual and spiritual union with G-d -- that is "paradise." This was
the curse of work that came in the wake of the first sin. G-d wasn't saying
that we will never enjoy earning a living in the exciting business world;
He was telling us that it would interfere with a much greater pleasure:
sitting and basking in the light of G-d. Dovid HaMelech, a great lover of
G-d, appreciated this, and wrote about it often.
"G-d is my light," says the Midrash, is an allusion to Rosh Hashanah, "and
my salvation" refers to on Yom Kippur. "He will hide me in His shelter on
the day of evil," of course, must therefore allude to Succos, when we enter
our succos to meditate on the oneness of G-d, our relationship with Him,
and our need to rely upon Him for security and serenity of mind.
What is the "day of evil"? On a pshat level, Dovid refers to any time of
trouble during which his life may be in peril. However, according to
Kabbalah, the final war of Gog and Magog, from which only Moshiach can save
us, will begin at Succos-time. Living in succos and waving the lulav and
esrog are considered to be important mitzvos for surviving such the epochal
On Your behalf, my heart has said, "Seek My Face"; Your Face, G-d, I seek.
Do not conceal Your Presence from me, and do not repel me in Your anger. (8-9)
Dovid HaMelech shows us here just how deep one's love for G-d can go, to
the point that one's own heart can act as a messenger for G-d. Thus, even
though the rest of our bodies may become lazy and selfish, our hearts must
become so attached to G-d and Torah that they feel inseparable from Him. It
is THIS that carries a person through the test and tribulations of life,
with his faith in G-d intact.
Though my father and mother have abandoned me, G-d will gather me in. (10)
Not that Yishai and his wife, Dovid's father and mother didn't love their
son, or want the best for him. But life is such that even the people upon
whom we depend the most cannot be 100% reliable, for a number of reasons.
Only G-d is 100% reliable, because He is above all circumstance and
limitation that prevents humans from always coming through for us. It is WE
who limit G-d's help, by becoming unworthy of it through misdeed and a lack
Hope to G-d, strengthen yourself and He will give you courage. Hope to G-d.
This is the goal of the Yemai Noraim -- Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur
and Shemini Atzeres: to train ourselves to look only to G-d for hope and
strength. Sin is the result of losing faith in G-d and His Providence,
which forces us to decide what we need and how to get it, even if that
means stepping over lines drawn by Torah. Complete trust in G-d is the path
toward righteousness, and, to being able to tap into a phenomenal source of
spiritual energy to discover our purpose in life, and, to fulfill it.
Have a great Shabbos,
L'Shannah Tovah ...
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Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at both Neve
Yerushalyim (Jerusalem) and Neveh
Rabbi Winston has authored fourteen books on Jewish philosophy
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