Reading the Curses – Opportunity to Achieve Atonement
by Rabbi Eli Mansour
Parashat Ki-Tavo is famous for the section known as the “Tocheha,” which describes the Kelalot (curses), the horrific calamities that threaten to befall Bene Yisrael if we forsake God’s commands. A similar section appears earlier in the Humah, in Parashat Behukotai, toward the end of the Book of Vayikra.
The Gemara notes a number of differences between the two sections. One difference is that the curses in Parashat Behukotai were dictated by God, whereas the curses here in Parashat Ki-Tabo were initiated by Moshe. Of course, God agreed with every letter, and it was thus all included in the Torah. But the curses in this Parasha were originally said by Moshe, and not by the Almighty.
At first glance, it seems very strange that Moshe would compose such horrific curses. Moshe Rabbenu was always our nation’s greatest advocate, interceding to God on our behalf and trying to secure a favorable judgment for us. It seems “out of character” for Moshe to warn of such dreadful and frightening catastrophes.
To understand Moshe’s intent in formulating these curses, let us first consider another comment of the Gemara. The Gemara teaches that Ezra, the leader of the Jewish people at the beginning of the Second Temple era, instituted that the curses of Parashat Ki-Tavo should be read every year in the final week or two of the year, before Rosh Hashanah. The reason, the Gemara explains, is “Tichleh Shana U’kelaloteha” – “the year should end along with its curses.” We read the curses when the year ends to express our hope that just as the year is coming to an end, the curses that threaten us should likewise come to an end.
How does reading the curses help us ensure that they will end?
We might compare reading the curses to other forms of reading and study, such as studying about the Korbanot, the sacrifices brought in the Bet Ha’mikdash. Even without a Mikdash, when we cannot offer Korbanot, we can still gain access to the power and effects of the sacrifices by learning about them. This is why we include the Korbanot section in our daily prayer service. By learning about the sacrifices, we are considered as though we have actually offered them, and we thus gain the advantages of sacrifices despite our inability to place animals upon the altar. This applies to the Kelalot, as well. When we study the dreadful curses in this Parasha, we are considered to have actually experienced them – even though we have not actually gone through this suffering. Reading and learning the Kelalot is thus very beneficial for us, as it helps us avoid having to actually endure them. Even if, Heaven forbid, we are deserving of suffering, we can study this section in lieu of punishment.
This is why Ezra had us read the Kelalot right before Rosh Hashanah. As we stand in judgment before God, we can tell Him that even if we have sinned and failed, we should be considered as having already endured punishment, since we’ve read and studied the curses of Parashat Ki-Tavo. This is why many great Sadikim listen very intently to the reading of the Kelalot, keenly aware of just how powerful and beneficial this study is.
And this might be why Moshe Rabbenu wrote these Kelalot in the first place. He was not trying to curse us, but to the contrary, to help us avoid calamity. He gave us this section for us to carefully read and study, so that we can be regarded as having endured this suffering and thereby earn atonement. The section of the Tocheha offers us the remarkable opportunity to achieve atonement for our sins without having to experience calamity and hardship. It is thus an invaluable asset, and an expression of immense love on the part of Moshe Rabbenu, who gave us this section to learn and probe as a means of averting calamity.
facts of life: take this serious
Do it Yourself
The Torah in Parashat Ki-Tavo discusses the Mitzvah of Bikkurim. During the times of the Bet Hamikdash, a Jew who grew fruits was required to bring the first fruits that ripened to the Temple and present them as a gift to the Kohen.
There is a fascinating Halacha relevant to Bikkurim that, while counterintuitive, provides us with a fundamental lesson concerning Torah life. Everyone who brought Bikkurim to the Mikdash had to bring the fruits in a basket. Surprisingly, though, it was only the baskets of the poor that were given to the Kohen together with the fruits. The wealthier Jews brought their Bikkurim in lavish, ornate baskets, and the Kohen took the fruits and allowed the people to keep their baskets. But when a poor man came with his Bikkurim in a simple, ordinary basket, the Kohen kept the fruits and the basket. The Talmud comments regarding this Halacha, “The poor get poorer” – the poor people lose more from this Mitzvah than the wealthy ones do.
The obvious question arises as to why this should be the case. Shouldn’t the multimillionaire be the one to surrender his basket along with his fruits? Why does the Torah impose an additional financial burden specifically upon the poor man?
The answer lies in the well-known rule of “Rahamana Liba Ba’i” – Hashem wants, first and foremost, the heart, the sincere effort. Unlike in our professional lives, where results are what counts, when it comes to Torah the most important thing is the work and effort that we invest. As long as we sincerely work toward achieving results, God values our efforts regardless of our bottom-line achievements.
When a wealthy magnate brings his first fruits to Jerusalem, he walks into a shop in the hotel lobby, sees an exquisite silver bowl, pulls out his credit card to make the purchase, and asks the concierge to bring it to his room and place in it the fruits on the table. He later hops into a cab with his Bikkurim and brings it to the Bet Hamikdash. The poor man, however, walks into a florist shop, asks for some leftover leaves and twigs, and then spends several hours weaving them together into a makeshift basket for his Bikkurim. After all, this is all he can afford to do. When these two people come together to the Bet Hamikdash, the Kohen asks for the poor man’s basket. God cherishes the hard work and sacrifice that the poor man invested into this Mitzvah, and it is therefore specifically his basket that the Kohen, as God’s representative, keeps. The wealthy man has certainly not done anything wrong. To the contrary, he has performed the great Mitzvah of Bikkurim. But there is something special about the poor man’s basket, about the work and effort that he invested, and this is what the Almighty values the most.
Today, a person can arrange three lavish Shabbat meals by just picking up the phone and placing an order. The caterer does all the cooking, setting up, serving and cleaning. Nobody could criticize those who make Shabbat in this way; in fact, it is admirable to spend money for the honor of Shabbat. But at the same time, there is much to be said for the personal effort and toil, working hard to prepare Shabbat. Something is lost when we delegate the work involved in preparing for Mitzvot.
This is true regarding the Sukka, as well. Today, people don’t want to have a hassle, so everyone has “the guy” who builds their Sukka for them. And, Baruch Hashem, many people bring great honor to the Mitzvah by hiring workers to build them magnificent Sukkot. But we must not overlook the value of personally involving oneself in the hard work of Misvot. Not everything should be delegated. Hashem cherishes not only the final result, but also the work we invest in the process.
The Arizal taught that when a person perspires for the sake of a Mitzvah, those drops of perspiration are stored and serve as a means of atonement for all his sons. One Rabbi I knew would participate each year in the baking of Masot for Pesah, and specifically chose the job of standing next to the scorching hot oven, putting in and removing the Masot. He said that this way he perspires the most, thus maximizing his reward for involving himself in this great Mitzvah.
When it comes to Mitzvah performance, we should not always find the most convenient way, even if we can afford it. It is worthwhile to “weave our own baskets,” to personally involve ourselves in the hard work, thereby demonstrating our love for the Misvot and our unwavering devotion to the One who commanded them.
By Rabbi Eli Mansour
10 Steps of Greatness
by Rabbi Avigdor Miller
In order to acheive greatness one has to learn many sepharim like Mesilat Yesharim, Hilchot Teshuva from Rambam, Ramban, ect. But what about the regular person, how can he acheive greatness, greatness doesn’t come right away, one acheives greatness step by step, no one can jump the ladder. So after much research through many Sefarim, Rabbi Avigdor Miller Z”tl made his 10 steps of greatness, made that everyone, no matter who you are, will be about to acheive greatness. If you do this easy program, you have acheived a great amount.
Ground Rules, don’t tell anyone they will think you’re crazy and will discourage you, do all of these privately and secretly. Also don’t do anymore right away you will tire yourself out.
1. Spend 30 seconds everyday thinking about Olam Haba.
4. Once a day encourage somebody, compliment somebody and don’t be stingy.
6. Chazal says all your activities should be LeShem Shamayim, so when are going to do it, there no chance in the next world. Once a day think I’m eating Leshem Shamayim to give me a boost and energy to serve Hashem.
continued from last week
8. Source of this is R Slobotka. The alter of Slabotka said a man would give hot milk for everyone in town, everything that was accomplished because of this action. This one gave milk to everyone who left shul to help them in their day, providing calcium protein and energy for each person. The alter of Slabotka said that it would be better if he would have smiled to everyone than giving a cup of milk. A smile gives energy, confident, ambition, and so much more. Give a big fat smile at someone once a day. Ramak says the Rebono Shel Olam is always illuminating, shining, and smiling at us. Think I’m preparing myself to complete the 8th step of greatness. (Smile and all the acts ben adam lechavero in 10 steps of greatness should be done to another Jew).
9. Hashem made clothing for Adam and his wife. Everyone holds that there must be some type of dress a human should wear except for the New York Times. Clothing honors a person, we declare we are a higher class than animals and show our superiority. Spend 30 seconds a day to appreciate your clothing. Look at your buttons. Buttons used to be made out of stones clamped in. Appreciate that Hashem put in the human’s mind to made buttons. Apreciate you button hole they weren’t cut they needed to a lot of work. The leather you wear how many steps did it take. Did you ever appreciate your shoes or your shoe laces. Hashem made plastic for our shoe laces. Without it, it would be very diffucult to stick our shoelaces through the hole. Think about your clothing everyday and in the morning say Baruch Ata Hashem Elokenu Melech HaOlam Malbish Arumim.
10. At a wedding after the Chupa everyone breaks a glass to remember Churban Beit Hamikdash to feel a moment of sadness. We took an oath “If we forget Yerushalayim let my right hand forget it’s cunning. We will remember at the time our greatest happiness.” Even in Yerushalayim we break the glass to remember the ancient Yerushalayim. That Neviyim would walk the streets, we would all experience and see the presence of Hashem, and smoke that went straight to Heaven from the Beit Hamikdash. Once a day close the door lock it, sit on the floor and mourn Yerushalayim for a split second. Mothers used to wake up children every midnight to cry over Yerushalayim, take a carpet if you don’t want to get your pants dirty. Once a day get on the floor remember Churban Yerushalayim.
First Aliyah: This section introduces us to the mitzvah of bikurim, the requirement to bring one’s first fruits to the Holy Temple. This mitzvah applies to fruits and produce grown in the land of Israel, and only those for which the land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates and olives. When in the Temple, the owner of the fruits recites a brief thanksgiving prayer to G‑d and presents the produce to the priests.
Second Aliyah: During Temple times, Jewish farmers were required to separate from their produce several different tithes. These were distributed to the priests, the Levites, the poor, and one tithe which was eaten by its owners in Jerusalem. The different tithes were not all given each year, rather there was a three-year cycle. In this aliyah, the Torah gives the procedure to be followed on the day before Passover during those years which followed the conclusion of a cycle. The farmer was to declare that he has performed all his tithing duties and then beseeches G‑d to bless His people and the Land.
Third Aliyah: Moshe admonishes the Jews to observe G‑d’s commandments; reminding them that they have selected Him to be their god, and He, in turn, has chosen them to be His holy and treasured nation.
Fourth Aliyah: The Jews are instructed to gather large stones when they cross the Jordan River. These stones were to be plastered, and the entire Torah was to be engraved upon them. Another set of stones was also to be inscribed with the entire Torah, and be set on Mt. Ebal.
Fifth Aliyah: The Jewish people are instructed to proclaim blessings and curses on Mts. Grizzim and Ebal. The elders of the Levite Tribe together with the Holy Ark stood between the two mountains, and six tribes were stationed atop each mountain. The Levites and priests faced each mountain alternately, and stated the blessing and curses. At the end of the aliyah, we are told of the bountiful blessings which will shower us if we hearken to G‑d’s commandments.
Sixth Aliyah: This section continues with the aforementioned blessings, and then launches a lengthy description of all the maledictions and suffering which will befall the Jews when they neglect the mitzvot.
Seventh Aliyah: Moshe reminds the Jews of all the miracles which have been their lot from when G‑d took them out of Egypt until that very day. He concludes by saying that it is therefore incumbent upon them to follow G‑d’s covenant.
Little Moishe Epstein was used to being the center of attention, so understandably he was a little more than jealous of his new baby sister Rivka. Moishe’s parents sat him down and said that now that Rivkah was getting older, the house was too small and they’d have to move.
“It’s no use,” Moishe said. “She’s crawling now. She’ll probably just follow us.
Little Moishie Grossman was saddened by the fact that his Zadie was in the hospital. So he decided to write Zadie a “get well soon” card. Inside the card he wrote:
Mommy tells me that you went to the hospital for some tests. I hope you get straight “A’s”!