Ki Tavo 5780 – Gratitude Mother of all Virtues

The Parasha starts by ordering us the Mitzva of Bikkurim, which consists in bringing the First ripe Fruits to the Bais Hamikdash. The fruits are brought to the Kohen with a procession and a lengthy declaration. We will focus on the essence of that Mitzva which is taught right after the Mitzva to annihilate Amalek. It is important to understand the connection between those Mitzvos. The Midrash in Parashas Bereshis states that the word Bereshis indicates that the world was created for the sake of what is called “Reishis” [first]: The nation of Israel who is termed “Reishis”, the Torah is called “Reishis”. Similarly, the Mitzvah of Bikkurim, which is labeled “Reishis”. The Alshich Hakadosh remarks that stating that the world was created for the Bnei Yisrael and the Torah is understandable. However, the Mitzva of Bikkurim seems farfetched, what so particular about that Mitzva to deserve the creation of the world just for its sake? The Alshich Hakadosh answers that the mitzvah of Bikkurim is teaches us a very fundamental principle; one’s obligation to express his gratitude to his benefactor. Thus, what so special about this principle for the Torah to mention it in the first word? Aren’t there more important commandments like Shabbos or Yom Kippur that should take precedence over “not being rude”? The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer [Chapter 7] answers, “There is nothing harder for Hashem than to live with an ungrateful person. The reason Adam from the Garden of Eden was exiled was not for the mere sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, but it was due to his ingratitude. Hashem would have forgiven the sin, but not ingratitude. When Hashem questioned Adam why did you not listen and ate from the forbidden fruit, his answer was: “The woman you provided me, she gave me the fruit and I ate it.” As Rashi points out, Adam was being ungrateful. Hashem presented him Chava as a gift and Adam complained that she caused him to sin. The Midrash continues that our ancestors in the Wilderness also angered Hashem with their failure to recognize His Goodness towards them. They bemoaned the loss of the “good old days” in Egypt when they had melons, cucumbers, and garlic, and complained about the Mann. The Midrash equates the sin of ingratitude with fundamental theological denial of the Almighty, which is the attribute of Amalek. One who is ungrateful towards his fellow man is ultimately ungrateful towards the Almighty as well. One who is an ingrate to his boss, his friends, his spouse, his parents, and his neighbor will eventually come to deny the favors of the Almighty. Hashem feels the same resentment for that individual as He feels for Amalek. The following story illustrates the recommended attitude: Most of Lublin’s residents lay fast asleep, yet its venerable rabbi hardly noticed the time. Rabbi Shlomo Luria sat in one of the synagogues, immersed in Torah study, his gaze rarely moving from the book in front of him. The absolute silence of the past few hours was suddenly interrupted by a faint noise. Rabbi Shlomo paused his learning and listened, trying to place it. Although soft and mellow, he quickly recognized it as the sound of Torah learning emanating from the floor below, a thought which caused Rabbi Shlomo to sit up a little straighter. Under the synagogue was the small store where Reb Avraham Kashi sold vegetables and buckwh eat (kasha), earning him the Kashi moniker. Reb Avraham was known to be a kind but a simple and almost illiterate Jew, barely able to follow the prayers or read Tehilim. Rabbi Shlomo walked over to the open window, where he was able to discern that it was indeed Reb Avraham’s voice, explaining the text with such startling clarity that the Talmudic complexities unraveled almost effortlessly. For several minutes, Rabbi Shlomo remained transfixed by the window, savoring the fact that unbeknownst to anyone in Lublin, a rare genius was holed up beneath the synagogue. Soon after morning prayers, Rabbi Shlomo requested that Reb Avraham appear before him. “I called you here because of a difficulty that arose during my studies. I myself failed to find an answer, so I’m hoping you can help me.” “Is this a joke?” frowned Reb Avraham. “It’s useless to seek such answers from a simpleton like me.” Rabbi Shlomo tried to convince him to drop the veil of ignorance, but Reb Avraham squirmed, dismissing the suggestion as laughable. But Rabbi Shlomo would not be deterred. He continued to urge until Reb Avraham hung his head and agreed to take a look. Rabbi Shlomo slid the Gemara over. After reluctantly skimming through the text, Reb Avraham looked up and offered a novel explanation. Rabbi Shlomo immediately countered it, and the two debated for a while, elaborating, clarifying, and distilling until they reached a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Though the exchange left Rabbi Shlomo beaming, it very much worried Reb Avraham. His secret was no longer his alone. He pleaded with Rabbi Shlomo not to reveal it, and Rabbi Shlomo agreed, although his heart ached to see such a rare scholar groveling away his days as a buckwheat vendor. But true to his word, their secret endured throughout the ensuing years. Every so often, the pair would convene late at night to study together, their relationship never extending beyond that. Shortly before his death, Rabbi Shlomo drafted a will, and when the time came, the elders of Lublin opened it and discovered his recommended successor: Reb Avraham Kashi, the buckwheat vendor. Feeling completely lost, the elders approached Reb Avraham. Hoping for clarity, they informed him of their rabbi’s designation, but he merely shrugged, reaffirming he was just a simple Jew. Despite their confusion, they believed Rabbi Shlomo’s consideration for Lublin’s future held significant importance, and they continued to press Reb Avraham until, to their immense relief, he agreed. “My agreement is predicated upon three conditions,” he explained. “One – my salary will not come from the community’s funds as I intend to support myself. Two – rather than sitting together with all the notables at the front of the synagogue, I will continue using my seat among the common folk in the back. Three – You may call me moreinu (‘our master’) but I will not be addressed with the honorific, moreh moreinu (‘master of our masters’).” Seeing no other choice, the elders accepted Reb Avraham’s conditions. With time, his wisdom and erudition became readily apparent, and the community invented creative ways to show respect to their leader, while still complying with his three conditions. When Reb Avraham opened the store each morning, community members immediately purchased all his stock to free up the rest of his day for the important matters of the community. Instead of moving his seat to the front of the synagogue, the rest of Lublin’s rabbis and lay leaders moved theirs back into the congregation, alongside his. Even the common honorific title he had agreed to, became unique, as all other rabbis were addressed as simply chaver (‘peer’). Reb Avraham Kashi never grew accustomed to the honor shown him and carried himself as modestly as before. Before his death, he asked to be buried near the cemetery’s outskirts, beside his father, a simple and unlearned man. He also asked not to have a large structure built over his grave. During death, as in life, his instructions were duly followed. Only someone who understands that everything is from Hashem and nothing happens unless Hashem decided, can really be humble. The humility is the greatest expression of gratitude, as it points to the understanding that we are powerless, and Hashem is in control. This leads to being constantly grateful.

By Rabbi Fridmann * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com * 305.985.3461

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