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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
[Editor’s note: As a memory of my beloved brother Shaya, I would like to continue sending out his pearls of wisdom that he has shared with all of you in the past. For some of you this may ring a bell and for others it may appear to be totally new. May the learning of Shaya’s Divrei Torah inspire us to change our ways and thereby give an Aliya to the neshama of our dear beloved Shaya whom we miss so much. A special thank you to Aaron Friedman for always looking over the divrei torah.]
Parshas Ki Savo begins with the Mitzva of Bikurim [bringing the first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash], followed shortly thereafter by the terrible curses that occur if we don't fulfill Hashem’s Mitzvos. The close proximity of the curses to Mitzvas Bikurim in the Torah begs us to ask what is the connection between them.
The Medrash gives an analogy: There was a king who saved a girl who was being beaten by robbers. He rescued her, brought her to his palace, and married her. He wanted to have a loving relationship with her, but she refused to talk to him or even thank him for all that he did for her. So the king put her back into the dangerous environment amongst the robbers and then she started crying and pleading to be saved. That was exactly what the king was waiting to hear.
Similarly, Hashem saves us from our enemies and gives us land, peace, security, and comforts. And then we forget about Him and think that our peace and security is due to our own wisdom and strengths. So in order to wake us up, He brings about painful afflictions, like pogroms, crusades, holocausts, and ‘natural’ disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and droughts.
Now we can understand the importance of the Mitzva of Bikurim. After entering Eretz Yisrael, we won our wars, settled our land with comfort and security, and are now harvesting our first crop of delicious and profitable fruit. The bringing of these first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash is our way of recognizing and admitting that all of our accomplishments are gifts from Hashem. It is our way of reminding ourselves not to fall prey to thoughts of ‘kochee viotzem yadee…,' that it is our strength that grants us success. Hence, when we don’t bring the Bikurim, we are are falling prey to the philosophy that 'it is our strength that has enabled our success, and that we don’t need Hashem.' Thus, what comes next are the terrible curses of the tochacha, that rip us away from our homeland and from our tranquility, to wake us up to remember that it’s NOT our military strength and wisdom that enables our success.
What about nowadays, when we don’t have the Beis Hamikdash and cannot bring Bikurim? How can we rectify this sin? How can we repent and show Hashem that we have realized the fallacy of these Hashkafos?
The answer is Tefilah. We daven three times each day in place of the Mitzva of Bikurim, to recognize and acknowledge that all that we have is from Hashem. Yes, we do our hishtadlus, but ultimately, it is our recognition that it’s all from Hashem that grants us our stability and tranquility. That is the purpose of Tefilla three times every day. Sometimes it inconveniences us in our busy work schedules, but perhaps the point is to wake us up and remind us that all our work is just a mere Hishtadlus. Although there are wicked people who are wealthy and there are righteous people who suffer, ultimately, it is this fundamental principle that will grant us serenity and true happiness.
The Avos, who established the three tefilos (shacharis, minchah, and ma'ariv) did not do so while in obvious danger or terrible times. On the contrary, they established davening during the relatively peaceful moments of their lives. This demonstrates to us that it is this type of davening that is most important. When we are in trouble it’s very easy and obvious to daven, as ‘there are no atheists in a foxhole.’ The real challenge is when things are going just fine. Do we pride ourselves on our own talents, or do we have gratitude to Hashem and give credit where credit is due? As Rav Yerucham Levovitz says, 'people think we have to daven when there is a crisis, and if there are no crises then we are okay. In truth, it’s just the opposite we have crises BECAUSE we aren’t davening properly.'
Let us all try to daven properly and sincerely, thanking Hashem when things are going well; before the next health issue comes up, before the next storm hits, before the next bomb blows up, before the next crisis occurs. In that way, we will do our share in rectifying the sin of not bringing the Bikurim [and of not keeping the Shmitah and Yovel years, which involve this same fallacy]. Instead of all the curses listed in this week’s Parsha, we will G-d willing merit all the wonderful blessings that come when we fulfill His wishes.