Ki Savo - Declarations and Taxes
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
According to the accounting of the Chinuch, this week's Parsha begins with
Mitzvos #606 and #607. Mitzvah #606 is the declaration that the farmer makes
when offering his basket of Bikurim - new fruits to the Kohain in the Bais
Hamikdash. Mitzvah #607 is the declaration that the farmer makes twice every
seven years(Shemitah), preferably in the Bais Hamikdash, on the last day of
Pesach of the fourth year and on the seventh year of the Shemitah cycle.
It is interesting that G-d would demand a verbal declaration in conjunction
with the acts of bringing the Bikurim and the giving of the Maaser - tithes;
and even more interesting is the content of the two declarations.
The Bikurim declaration briefly summarizes the history of our nation from
Avraham until the people took possession of Eretz Yisroel. Following the text
of the declaration the Torah states, (26:11) "And then you shall rejoice in
all the good that G-d has given to you."
The Maaser declaration proclaims before G-d that the farmer had completely
adhered to the laws of Maaser and concludes with the farmer's request for
continued divine blessing.
Why does G-d associate these declarations with these specific Mitzvos? Why
does the Bikurim declaration review Jewish history and conclude with the
directive, "rejoice in all the good?" Why does the Maaser declaration
demand a fiscal accounting from the farmer and concludes with his request for
continued divine blessing?
Rav Hirsch explains, "Both these declarations refer to two institutions that
have already been set down elsewhere in the Law. These are the offerings of
the first fruits and the tithe, which are intended to express, by acts of
profound ideal significance, the gratitude of the Jew for his land and for
the material wealth derived from it" those two foundations of the nation's
existence "and the Jew's understanding of the origin and purpose of these
The first declaration underscores the total dependency of the farmer, and by
extension the dependency of the entire nation and world, on G-d. From our
earliest familial inception we were wanderers without a home. If not for G-d
deeding to Avraham the Promised Land, if not for G-d leading the family of
Yaakov from Canaan to Egypt and back, we would not be a nation and we would
not have a land. Eretz Yisroel was gifted to us by virtue of G-d's largess,
not because we deserved it. At first, the land did not belong to Avraham. G-d
gave it to Avraham. Therefore, on the occasion of the ripening of the first
fruits of our labor (see Darash Moshe) we reinforce the awareness of our
dependency in the public arena of the Bais Hamikdash. Symbolically, we give
to G-d that which we think is ours but know to be G-d's.
Following the Bikurim declaration, the Torah mandates, "rejoice in all the
good." In Michtav M'Eliyahu is recorded a lesson that Rav Dessler gave on
the first chapter of Tehilim.
Rav Dessler explained that a Tzaddik (righteous person) is not someone
protected from difficulties or pain. The Tzaddik is someone whose perspective
on life frames all of life's inevitabilities, both good and bad, as positive.
Every event is a revelation of G-d's intent and ultimate goodness. Therefore,
the Tzaddik is always happy and content, despite the apparent pain and
The Rasha (evil doer), on the other hand, sees life's ups and downs as random
luck, some good and some bad. For the Rasha, the only dependable reality is
the material present. Therefore, difficulties, pain, and the fear of future
difficulties and pain, color everything, stripping away the temporal fa?§ade
of joy and contentment. For the Tzaddik, pain is temporal and contentment is
eternal. For the Rasha, contentment is temporal and pain is eternal.
Once the farmer acknowledges that his assumed successes are really G-d's
doing and his property and produce G-d's gift to him, his family, and his
nation, he is able to "rejoice in all the good."
For example, success is too often judged by comparison to the competition,
rather than the actual success. The entrepreneur who profited 10 million
dollars feels poor when his competitor profited 100 million.
The athlete who contracted a 5 million per year deal feels cheated when his
colleague landed a 7 million per year contract.
The student with the B feels he should have gotten an A, and the student with
the A is unhappy because someone else got an A+.
How often did we say to our parents or hear from our kids, "Don't worry,
everyone messed up on the test, no one got higher than a C." Somehow, our
sense of failure or disappointment was mitigated when no one else did any
"Rejoicing in all the good," demands that the farmer accept G-d's divine
control in all things. What he has was "gifted" to him because it was G-d's
intent. What was gifted to his neighbor with the greener grass and the nicer
car is equally G-d's intent.
Maaser - tithes, symbolize responsibility for the personal and national
whole. Not only is all that we have a gift from G-d, regardless of our
presumed accomplishments, but we were given more to provide for others as
Rav Hirsch explains the purpose of the three different tithes.
1. The First Maaser: This was given to the Layvie symbolizing the
cultivation of the spirit through the study of Torah.
2. The Second Maaser: This was eaten by the owner in Yerushalayim
symbolizing "the care of our bodies in a spirit of moral purity."
3. The Third Maaser: This was given to the poor symbolizing our duty
and concern for the welfare of our fellow man. All three of the tithes
involve using that which G-d has gifted us for His intended purposes.
The Mitzvah of Bikurim acknowledged our total dependency on G-d. He created
it all and it all belongs to him. The Mitzvah of Maaser is the therefore.
Therefore, we must use G-d's world for His purposes. We must attend to our
spiritual development, to our moral development, and must be concerned that
our fellow human beings have the same.
The farmer who proclaims before G-d and nation that he has fulfilled his
obligation in giving all the Maaser, and has taken responsibility to use
G-d's gifts as G-d intended, is empowered to ask for G-d's continued
"The realization of these three objectives should encompass the sum total of
our mission. The life of a nation whose material endeavors are devoted to the
achievement of these objective; a nation that has been freed of all egotism
and moral corruption - should be so healthy and so close to human perfection
that it may indeed presume to call upon G-d and to beseech His blessing, so
that the nation may obtain the material means which it needs to continue its
good endeavors." (R.S.R. Hirsch 26:15)
Following the last two Parshios that focused on Justice and the value of
individual rights, Moshe directed the nation's attention to the realities of
what it meant to live in Eretz Yisroel.
Our behaviors, as well as natural law, are subject to the word of G-d and
interface with each other in the most intimate example of cause and effect.
As the Chosen People, our lifestyle should manifest the ever-present mastery
of the Creator over mankind and the realization of the connection between our
adherence of Mitzvot and the laws of nature. This is most apparent in Eretz
Yisroel. As Moshe told the Bnai Yisroel in Parshas Eikev, (11:12) "It is
therefore a land constantly under Hashem's scrutiny..." As clearly as the rain
and dew fall, the land reflects G-d's presence. Keeping the Mitzvos of the
Torah proclaims in word and deed G-d's mastery over man and results in nature
serving man as her accepted master. By ignoring or opposing the Torah we deny
G-d's mastery over man; and in turn, nature opposes man's attempts at mastery
over the natural world.
During the 40 years of the desert, the Jews were being prepared to accept the
reality of Hashem's mastery and the responsibility of keeping His Mitzvos.
Now, in Parshas Ki Savoe, as they were poised to cross the Yarden and assume
their intended place as "... highest of all the nations on earth," (28:1)
Moshe commanded a number of declarations and ceremonies. These ceremonies
would underscore the cause and effect relationship that exists between
adherence to Torah, the laws of nature, and the divine responsiveness of the
Preparing For Selichos
The moment we hear the Chazan (cantor) sing the hauntingly beautiful melodies
of the Yomim Noraim, a hushed sense of expectation descends over the
congregation. The Day of Judgment is almost here. Am I ready? Am I
prepared? If not, it is definitely time to begin. This is the intended
reaction to the Selichos which we will begin Saturday night, at midnight.
Chazal established two basic rules for Selichos:
1. Always start on a Sunday.
2. We must say Selichos for a minimum of 4 days prior to Rosh Hashana.
We start on Sunday to give ourselves the added advantage of starting our
appeal while still cloaked in the sanctity of Shabbos. We start at midnight
so as to grab every possible moment of preparation for the Day of Judgment.
We say Selichos for a minimum of 4 days to imitate the 4 day process of
preparation that a Korban - sacrifice underwent before it could be offered on
the Mizbeach (alter).
The Selichos themselves capture the hopes and tears of generations as they
beseeched G-d for continued protection, forgiveness, and benevolence.
Highlighting the entire service is the repetition of the 13 names of
G-d as He manifests His love, compassion, and mercy for His people and
universe. The names by which we refer to G-d (Hashem - the Name) describe how
we wish G-d to relate to us at any given moment. Taught to Moshe in the
aftermath of the Golden Calf, this 13-name formula evokes G-d's mercy.
Rosh Hashana means going to court, which should evoke in us an overwhelming
sense of vulnerability. This feeling should humble us into recognizing how
much we need G-d's mercy and forgiveness. Motzoei Shabbos (Saturday night),
through the words of the Selichos, we will be able to express that sense of
humility and vulnerability.
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.