This week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, begins with the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the dedication of the first fruits of the shivas ha’minim (seven species of the Land, Devarim 8:8), and the bringing of the fruits up to Yerushalayim, to the kohen in the Beis Ha’Mikdash. When the landowner sees the first fruits of the tree beginning to ripen, he goes down to his field, he ties around the fruit a reed marker, and he declares, “Behold, this is Bikkurim!” (Bikkurim 3:1). After a joyous procession, led by an ox with horns gilded in gold and an olive wreath around its horns, with the musical accompaniment of a flute, all the landowners of a region bring their fruits together to Jerusalem.
In regard to the actual bringing of the fruits and giving them to the kohen, the Gemara teaches (Bava Kamma 92a): Poverty follows after the poor. What is the proof of this? The wealthy would bring their bikkurim up to the Temple in baskets of silver and gold, while the poor would bring theirs in baskets of peeled willow twigs. The poor would give their bikkurim and their baskets to the Kohanim, but the wealthy would keep their baskets (after the fruits were removed).
Hence, the meager fruit offering of the poor was given, and taken, along with their paltry baskets, while the bountiful fruit offering of the rich was given, and their opulent baskets were returned to them.
R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita explains this phenomenon as follows. “The sefer Talelei Oros records R’ Aharon Bakst’s explanation of why their baskets were not returned to the poor. The Kohanim were concerned about the dignity of the poor - whose bikkurim fruits were meager and of less-than-superior-quality. They knew that if they were to remove the fruits from the baskets in front of everyone present, the poor people would suffer embarrassment. (Hence, they took the baskets and the fruits from the poor people right away, so as not to make a public display of their meager offering.) But the wealthy people, who would bring beautiful, top quality fruits in impressive quantities, would have their bikkurim removed from the baskets and the baskets returned to them.
“We see from here,” R’ Zilberstein writes, “How great is our obligation not to cause another Jew embarrassment, especially public embarrassment” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach, Devarim, p.319-320).
In this final month of year, as we approach Yom HaDin and prepare to be judged for all of our actions once again, we would do well to keep this lesson in mind. We must take an accounting of our interactions with others this past year, and asses what middos we need to improve in the coming year. Chazal (Yoma 8:9) teach, עֲבֵרוֹת שֶׁבֵּין אָדָם לַמָּקוֹם, יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים מְכַפֵּר. עֲבֵרוֹת שֶׁבֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, אֵין יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים מְכַפֵּר, עַד שֶׁיְּרַצֶּה אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ - For sins between man and G-d, Yom Kippur effects atonement. However! For sins against fellow man, Yom Kippur does not effect atonement, until one pacifies (seeks forgiveness from, makes amends with) his friend.
How severe is the sin of embarrassing our fellow? The Sages teach, נוח לו לאדם שיפיל עצמו לתוך כבשן האש ואל ילבין פני חבירו ברבים, Far better that a man should let himself be cast into a fiery furnace and let him not publicly put his fellow to shame (Sotah 10b).
The village of Uzda was tiny in size, a small suburb of Minsk (part of White Russia in the 19th Century). It was in Uzda that on 7 Adar 5655 (1895), Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l was born. At the age of twenty, and still unmarried, R’ Moshe became the Rav of the town of Uzda. He was loved and admired, not only for his greatness in Torah, but for his stellar character traits and his love for every Jew.
“The Jewish community in Uzda provided him with all his basic needs, some of which were slightly unusual for the town rabbi, since R’ Moshe remained unmarried during his years there. One of the local women was assigned the task of cooking his meals, a task she performed gladly.
“One day, R’ Moshe’s sister Chana arrived in Uzda to visit her brother. ‘I see you are being treated very well,’ she said, ‘you have put on some weight.’ ‘I am being treated well,’ R’ Moshe replied. ‘The woman who cooks for me prepares a heaping plate of food for each meal. I always finish all that is served, not wanting her to think I find her food lacking. However, she sees my clean plate as a sign of hunger and she promptly serves me seconds - which I also partake of, for her sake. And so, yes - I have put on some weight.’
“Later that day, Chana joined him for a meal at the woman’s house. She took one bite - and found that it tasted so awful, she was tempted to spit it out. With a heaping plate of food staring at her and not wishing to insult her hostess, she saw no way out of her dilemma but to clear the food off the plate when the woman was not looking.
“In later years, Rebbetzin Small would relate this story to her grandchildren, expressing her admiration for her brother, who day after day, for three years, ate this woman’s cooking, two portions at a time! Difficult as it may have been to eat the badly prepared food, R’ Moshe, who would one day be remembered as ‘a gaon (giant) in middos,’ found it far more difficult to hurt the woman’s feelings” (Reb Moshe, 25th Yarzheit Edition, Artscroll, p.50-51).
Pirkei Avos (2:6): Hillel would say, במקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש. R’ Yisrael Meir Lau shlita, in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, writes, “At times a person wishes to do no more than match the level of his environment or at best exceed it somewhat. No, says Hillel, do not allow yourself to slip into mediocrity, do not compare yourself merely to those in your immediate vicinity. Strive to be a man, a person who fulfills his potential.”
Let us rise to ever higher heights this coming year, as we repent for the past and resolve for the future. Let us improve our interactions with all of those around us, as we strive to maintain our own, and each other’s, dignity. Let us remember that greater than baskets of gold and silver, are actions and kind words that are worth more than gold and silver. בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום.