BS"D

UNDERSCORING UNIQUENESS: PARSHAT KI TAVO

Shira Smiles shiur 2022/5782

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Ki Tavo begins with the mitzvah of Bikurim, bringing the first of our fruit to the Beit Hamikdosh, and declaring to the kohein how Hashem has raised us up from our lowly beginnings of almost extinction and slavery to becoming a prosperous nation in a land flowing with milk and honey. The basket of first fruit we present to the kohein is a token of our gratitude to Hashem for His benevolence to us.

Just a few verses later, the Torah presents the reciprocal relationship between Hakodosh boruch Hu and Bnei Yisroel. "You[Bnei Yisroel] have today he'emartem/distinguished/exalted Hashem to be God for you and to observe His... commandments... And Hashem has he'emircha/distinguished/exalted you today to be for Him a treasured people..." This reciprocal relationship is based on our understanding of the uniqueness and oneness of Hakodosh boruch Hu and on our unique acceptance of the mission He entrusted to us. We have thereby accepted His will as our will. [Even a child whom the teacher chooses to serve as class monitor for a few minutes feels special during that time. How much more so should we feel our specialness and responsibility as Hashem's permanent ambassadors. CKS]

What have we, Bnei Yisroel, agreed to in this covenant? Rabbi Svei quoting the Akedat Ytizchak, points out four categories and ways in which we commit to Hashem despite challenges, and four reciprocal categories in which Hashem commits to us. The Torah terminology alludes to four possible psychological impediments to Torah observance: First, humans like to assert their independence, but we are submitting our will to His will. Second, there are mitzvoth that we would do even if not commanded, like helping the poor. But our primary motivation should be to go in His ways. Third, we agree to follow Hashem's command even if the observance is a chok/beyond human understanding. Finally, even if our wish is completely contrary to Hashem's wish, we will follow His command rather than our own.

Hashem reciprocates in four ways: First, we are His am segulah/treasured nation. As you have made Me Hashem Echod/One Unique God, so have I made you goy echad ba'aretz/a unique nation on earth. For following in His ways, we have merited building a special closeness with Hakodosh boruch Hu. For observing mitzvoth we do not understand, we will be exalted as a wise and insightful people. Finally, for always listening to His voice, we merit a special sanctity and purity of always being in His presence. [The "inner circle" surrounding a king must often give up parts of what others would consider normal life and use of personal time to be part of this unique circle. They must be available at the king's beck and call, but they also have access to his ear at all times. CKS]

In this vein, our medrash tells us that just as we wear tefillin that declare "...Hashem is One," so does Hashem wear symbolic tefillin that declares that we are "one nation in the land... that has a God so close every moment we call to Him." Even when we are barely whispering, or standing behind a pole, Hashem hears us. When Moshe saw prophetically that the Beit Hamikdosh would be destroyed and we would no longer be able to bring our first fruit as a symbol of our gratitude to Hashem, he established the three daily prayers to reflect this same mindset. Just as we depended on You, we continue to depend on You for everything, for health, for wisdom, and all else. As He was close to us when we brought those first fruit to the Beit Hamikdosh, so does He continue to be close to us now, in the Diaspora.

When our focus is on elevating Hashem and observing His mitzvoth, Hashem's focus will be on us, to elevate us and give us the tools necessary to observe even those mitzvoth that seem out of our reach, write Rabbi Scheinerman, citing Rav Avigdor Miller.

Taking it one step further, Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah writes that to the extent that we make His will our will, He will make our will His will. He will follow our desire and actions as a shadow follows its subject.

This equivalence extends not only between ourselves and Hashem writes Rabbi Levenstein, but extends to include how we treat others. As we emulate Hashem's thirteen attributes of mercy in our interactions with others, so will Hashem respond to us. Everything depends on the individual.  Since Hashem has mercy on all His creatures, when we treat His creations with mercy and compassion, He responds [with acknowledgment - CKS] in kind.

It goes even further than action itself, adds the Sifsei Chaim, Rabbi Friedlander. Hashem's attitude and eye toward you will reflect your positive or negative eye toward your fellow man. When a person looks positively or does a chesed for another, that act and attitude rises heavenward, and Hashem will send it down in time, when that chessed and positive eye is needed most.

We can summarize our discussion of our unique relationship with Hakodosh boruch Hu thus far with three points. First, Hashem hears us however muted are our voices and wherever we are. Second, the more we desire to come close to Him, the more opportunities Hashem gives us to perform mitzvoth. Third, as our thoughts focus on Hashem, so will His thoughts focus on us. In this month of Elul, Hashem is especially close to us, waiting for us to connect. We are beginning work on coronating Hashem over us, the main element of our Rosh Hashanah worship and observance.

A fundamental tenet of our belief is yichud Hashem/the uniqueness and unity of Hashem, the concept alluded to with the word he'emartem, a word different from just amartem/said. Its grammatical form infuses more meaning back into the simple word. [For example, achaltem=you ate; he'echaltem=you fed. CKS] He'emartem to be your God is therefore more than saying the words; it is making the words come alive with their meaning. It is coronating Hashem as the One, unique King over us and internalizing ain od milvado/nothing exist save Hashem, explains Rabbi Kofman in Mishchat Shemen.

Given that nothing exists save Hashem, we must understand that all things, not only the physical, emanate from Hashem. Emotions and thoughts are also part of His Being, explains Rabbi Elias in Ani Maamin. So too are the challenges we face. We pray for a cure from illness, but the illness itself is also part of Hashem, and is meant to lead us toward growth. We need to recognize Hashem in every aspect of our lives, both in what we perceive as positive and in what we perceive as negative.

Rabbi Elias cites the analogy of Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr to explain the concept of the unity of Hashem. When we see light, it appears as pure white. Yet, if we channel that light through a prism, we see all the different colors of the rainbow that together appear as white. While the pure light represents Hashem, He manifests Himself through the prism of the world. Sometimes He appears as bright, cheerful yellow, and sometimes as brooding blue. Our challenge is to see everything as one emanation of the unified God.

There are ninety-eight curses in this parshah. We have to understand that these curses are also manifestations of Hashem's compassion, writes the Mishchat Shemen. As the Baal Haturim notes,  within these curses the four lettered name of Hashem, the name representing mercy and compassion, appears twenty-six times, teaching us that indeed these are manifestations of Hashem's love and kindness. [I find it interesting that this name appears twenty-six times, the numerical equivalent/gematria of that very name. CKS]

When a person can internalize the concept that both the good and the challenges come from Hashem's kindness, and accepts the challenges as indeed hidden kindness, he has internalized the faith of Hashem's Unity, he has understood that Hashem oversees everything, both public and personal, that happens in the world.

Hashem micromanages my life, writes Rabbi Elias, keeping my circumstances in perfect equilibrium for growth through the challenges of free choice in every situation while providing me with the tools to choose correctly. We have to respond to the stimuli Hashem sends us. We must accept unconditionally the challenges Hashem presents us with, just as we accepted the Torah unconditionally, first accepting with naaseh, and only then asking to hear the details of nishma, adds the Ohel Moshe, Rabbi Bernstein.

Just as Hashem is One and Unique, so too is Bnei Yisroel one and unique, for Hashem has placed His Name upon us, writes the Sifsei Chaim. When we live up to our designation and mission as Hashem's unique nation, we make Hashem's uniqueness manifest in the world. Rabbenu Yonah explains further that each individual manifests Hashem's uniqueness in his personal life through his individual actions, and when Bnei Yisroel is united in its service to Hashem, His Oneness is manifest in the world. The verses extolling Hashem's uniqueness and Bnei Yisroel's uniqueness are thus intertwined.

When will Hashem's presence and Oneness be manifest in the world? "Vayehi biYeshurun Melech bihisasef roshei am, yachad shiftei Yisroel,"When all the tribes and individuals of Bnei Yisoel are yachad/united in their uprightness and service to Hashem. With a solid base, the structure of Hashem's "palace" is sound and secure. When the segments of the base shift and separate from each other, the building topples.

"This day, Hashem, your God, commands you to perform these decrees and statures..." Thus actually begins the passage we have been discussing. Which day is this? The day of Rosh Hashanah, the day of the renewal of creation, of Hashem's becoming King over a kingdom, He created a day of the renewal of His covenant with us. As we again coronate Hashem as King over us, He makes us His nation. When we can internalize these ideas so that they become our essence, we will have exalted Him and He, in turn, will exalt us.