Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tavo 5631 First Ma'amar

This week’s parsha begins with the mitzvos of bikurim/first fruits and bi’ur ma’asros/removing tithes (from our possession after the third and sixth years of the shmitta cycle.) The pasuk immediately following these mitzvos is, “הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-הַחֻקִּים .../This day God, your Lord commands you to do these laws …” This pasuk seems to be extraneous. The requirements for these mitzvos are already clearly stated directly before. What is the purpose of this pasuk here?

The first Midrash Tanchuma on the parsha addresses this question. The mitzvah of bikurim comprises two main components. First, we are required to bring the first fruit of our produce to the priests in the Beis HaMikdash. After bringing the first fruit we are required to thank God for His bounty and pray to Him for our needs. A person who prays upon bringing his first fruit can ask God for his needs and the needs of the nation of Israel and expect to be answered, as the pasuk says, “Hayom hazeh/This day.” The Midrash understands “This day” as if it is connected to the previous pasuk which describes the person’s prayer. The Midrash says that, in fact, a heavenly voice answers that, “You will merit bringing next year as you have brought this day.” The pasuk by adding, “Hayom hazeh/This day” is teaching us just how powerful the person’s prayer really is.

The proper performance of the mitzvah of bikurim is intimately connected to our sustenance for the coming year. Accordingly, not being able to perform this mitzvah could be devastating to our livelihood. How can we still benefit from God’s blessing if we are not able to keep this mitzvah?

The Midrash, addressing this question, says that Moshe Rabbeinu foresaw a time when there would be no Beis HaMikdash and we would not be able to observe the mitzvah of bikurim. Moshe Rabbeinu knew the power of prayer from his own experience. When he prayed to enter Israel, God stopped him. If he had continued, God would have acquiesced, as it were, to Moshe’s prayer. Even so, because of his prayer God allowed him to see all of Israel. In order to still benefit from God’s blessing, Moshe Rabbeinu instituted prayer thrice daily.

Why thrice daily? What is the connection between praying three times a day and bikurim? After all, it is already a mitzvah to pray. Why does this not suffice? What extra advantage is there from an officially instituted practice of praying three times a day? The Chiddushei HaRim explains the relationship between praying three times a day and the mitzvah of bikurim. The benefit of bikurim is because we are giving our first fruit to God’s priests. We are thinking of Him before we think of ourselves. This same idea applies to prayer. Moshe Rabbeinu requires us to dedicate the first moments of every daily time change to God, morning, afternoon and evening. Even though one may pray the entire afternoon and the entire night, the halacha encourages us to pray at the beginning of each time period before engaging in other activities. By instituting set times for daily prayer at the beginning of each time change, Moshe Rabbeinu transferred the challenge of bikurim to a different activity – prayer – for when the mitzvah of bikurim is not applicable.

The Midrash continues that if “this day” teaches us the power of our prayers and defines the reach of our expectations through prayer why is it simply not attached to the end of the previous pasuk? Why is there an entire additional pasuk that says once again that God commanded us to perform these mitzvos? The Midrash answers that the Torah is teaching us a new concept. We learn from this extra pasuk to relate to the mitzvos as if they are being newly received each day.

The Sfas Emes is bothered by this statement. It implies that the mitzvos are not really new each day but we should view them as if they are. Is the intent of the Midrash then to mislead us, God forbid?!

The Sfas Emes explains that there is certainly an aspect of renewal in everything that God created because creation is a constant act, not a one time act. The universe and everything in it is constantly being created anew as we say in our morning prayers, “He renews the Creation in His goodness each day constantly.” Furthermore, each physical creation has in it a spiritual life force to which it owes its continued existence whose energy is being constantly replenished. However, this spiritual energy flow and the associated renewal is hidden by the physical as Shlomo HaMelech said in Koheles, “אֵין כָּל חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשֶׁמֶשׁ/There is nothing new under the sun.” “Under the sun” represents the physical world. The Sfas Emes explains that the renewal is not noticeable in the physical.

The Torah is teaching us that we have the power to reveal and shed light on the renewal aspect of the Creation through performance of the mitzvos. This is the Midrashic meaning of the pasuk. “Hayom hazeh/This day” represents the constant renewal of the creation. According to the (Sfas Emes’s explanation of the) Midrash, the pasuk can be read, “הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ מְצַוְּךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-הַחֻקִּים .../The aspect of renewal is what God your Lord commanded you to find with the mitzvos.”

How successful we are at revealing the spiritual in the physical is dependent on the strength of our belief that it is there. Chazal express this idea in another pasuk from this week’s parsha, “וְהָיָה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע .../If you will truly listen …” “Shamo’a tishma/You will truly listen” is a repetition of the word for listen. Why does the pasuk repeat? Chazal explain that if you listen to the old (in the past), you will merit listening to the new (in the future). The Hebrew for listen connotes acceptance. The Sfas Emes understands that the old represents the physical whereas the new represents the spiritual life-force which is the source of renewal in the world. Chazal are teaching us that to the extent that we believe that there is a Godly spiritual life-force hidden within the physical, that Godliness will be revealed to us.

This is the meaning of the Midrash. The mitzvos, along with everything else really are renewed each day and in fact continuously. The renewal is spiritual and hidden, though. How then, can we experience this renewal, this Godly revelation? The Midrash teaches us that we can experience a daily renewal by viewing the mitzvos as if they were given to us today.

We find the idea that God reveals Himself to us according to our belief Him also in the pasuk in Tehillim, “בֹּאוּ נִשְׁתַּחַוֶה וְנִכְרָעָה .../Come let us prostrate ourselves and bow …” Here too, we find a repetition. Prostration is the ultimate symbol of submission. Prostration before God connotes submission to God. It connotes submission to whatever God’s Truth is. The word for bow in this pasuk is in the reflexive form implying a causative connection between the will to submit to God and receiving the benefits of that submission. To the extent we submit to God, we merit a revelation of God’s Truth.

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