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לימוד תורה

When is it time to stop and recalculate our route

Parshah and its realization – Parashat Ki Tavoh 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Chaim Shenvald

It was a starry night in the south, day and a half before the end of the team exercise, after days of great effort, without enough hours of sleep and very little food, cramped muscles, rubs and calluses on the feet, and a sweaty uniform sticking to the body. We climbed up a steep hill; one of the trainees led the way navigating to the destination dictated to him by the commanders. One of the countless hills we climbed. The stretcher's weight made it hard to climb, all four of its bearers  panting, but there was no one to replace them. We were all slowing down. 'Don't stop when ascending, it makes it harder to start again!', advised the commander. We kept going, those who managed to survive until this stage did not think for a moment to give up. The legs were almost without feeling, moving by themselves. Everyone was praying in their hearts for it to be over soon. We reached the top, the stretchers were kept on the shoulders. The commander turned to the navigator in a scolding tone: 'Look what you've done to your friends'! 'You've brought them up the wrong hill! Maybe you should check yourself and take them to the right hill?! The thought that the navigator made a mistake and we were expected to hike another hill was disheartening. But he was determined, his confidence not shaken, 'This is the hill you specified to me!' he said. It turned out that he was right, this was indeed the right hill; the commander wanted to check his self-confidence.

There are situations in life, of the individual and the public, where the destination we are going to is right and necessary and the path to it is clear. Even if there are challenging difficulties on the way, one should continue with determination, and not stop, until the goal is reached. However, there are many other situations, in which the objective is wrong, and perhaps even destructive, and yet we continue to move towards it, due to inertia, without stopping for a moment to recalculate the route. The difficulties on the way are not challenges to overcome but a signal that this is not the way, and perhaps the destination is wrong, and the price we pay may be heavy.

There are situations where the goal and its importance are controversial, those who believe in it will push themselves to go on and continue with determination, and at the same time examine the process to reach it, without 'getting lost' along the way! On the other hand, those who oppose it will call to stop and take a different path and will try to intensify the dangers that may be caused, to convince others. On the contrary, the one whose goal is clear to him, and is convinced of his righteousness, will not have his confidence shaken, even though he might check from time to time that he did not get lost along the way.

The month of Elul is intended for a proactive stop to recalculate our path. This is the deep meaning of Cheshbon HaNefesh*1 – "an accounting of the soul". The basic assumption is that 'G-d made man to be honest', that man's nature is to be good. However, sometimes the person deviates from the path, 'misses the goal' and directs his life towards the wrong goals. And sometimes his goals are right, but he 'got lost' along the way. The insistence on not stopping and continuing due to inertia can be harmful.

To check our way to the destination, we need to stop the flow of life, return to the essence and roots, to the basic questions of existence: who we are, what is our destiny, and where are we headed? and if necessary 'recalculate our route'. This is how it is in our individual life, the community, and the nation. One of the meanings of the 'Teshuva' is the 'return' to the right path that will bring us to the goal of our lives, private and national.

Parashat Ki Tavoh opens with the Mitzvah of 'Bikurim' (First Fruits) that the farmer brings to the Temple once a year, and in the Mitzvah of 'וידוי ביכורים' - 'The recitation of the first fruits':

וְעָנִ֨יתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ לִפְנֵ֣י ה' אֱלֹקיךָ אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י וַיֵּ֣רֶד מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וַיָּ֥גׇר שָׁ֖ם בִּמְתֵ֣י מְעָ֑ט וַֽיְהִי־שָׁ֕ם לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל עָצ֥וּם וָרָֽב׃ וַיָּרֵ֧עוּ אֹתָ֛נוּ הַמִּצְרִ֖ים וַיְעַנּ֑וּנוּ וַיִּתְּנ֥וּ עָלֵ֖ינוּ עֲבֹדָ֥ה קָשָֽׁה׃ וַנִּצְעַ֕ק אֶל ה' אֱלֹקי אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע ה֙ אֶת־קֹלֵ֔נוּ וַיַּ֧רְא אֶת־עׇנְיֵ֛נוּ וְאֶת־עֲמָלֵ֖נוּ וְאֶֽת־לַחֲצֵֽנוּ׃ וַיּוֹצִאֵ֤נוּ ה֙ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם בְּיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבְמֹרָ֖א גָּדֹ֑ל וּבְאֹת֖וֹת וּבְמֹפְתִֽים׃ וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַיִּתֶּן־לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃

"You shall then recite as follows before Hashem your G-d: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to Hashem the G-d of our ancestors, and Hashem heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. Hashem freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents, bringing us to this place and giving us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey." (Devarim 26:5-9)

"אמירת שני הווידויים האלה (של ביכורים ומעשר א.ש.), אחת לשנה או אחת לשלוש שנים, תזכיר לכל יהודי את מקורו ההיסטורי הלאומי ואת התפקיד הלאומי הנובע מכך. וכו'. שהרי זו תכלית הביכורים כפי שהיא משתמעת מן ההצהרה הכתובה כאן מיד בסמוך: הם נועדו לקשור כל הווה, עד לדור אחרון, לעבר הקדום של לאומיותנו ולמקור ייעודנו הלאומי" (רש"ר הירש שם).

This Mitzvah is an important step in the spiritual processes that a person goes through every year. Stopping the race of life and going up to the Temple; an opportunity to return to the ancient roots and their purpose: "Saying these two recitations (of first fruits and tithes) once a year or once every three years, will remind every Jew of his national historical origin and the national role that derives from it… After all, this is the purpose of the first fruits as it is implied from the statement written right here: they are intended to tie the entire present, down to the last generation, to the ancient past of our nationalism and the source of our national destiny". (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ibid.).

*1Cheshbon HaNefesh (lit. an account of the soul- a process of stocktaking and introspection with regard to one’s Divine service)

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