SALT - Sunday, 10 Elul 5780 - August 30, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            In the beginning of Parashat Ki-Tavo, Moshe concludes his lengthy presentation of mitzvot, which began back in Parashat Re’ei, by discussing two agricultural commands: bikkurim (bringing one’s first fruits to the Temple), and vidui ma’aser (avowing one’s compliance with his tithing obligations every three years).  Moshe then concludes, “This day, the Lord your God commands you to perform these statutes and laws, and you shall observe and perform them with all your heart and your soul.”
            The simple interpretation of this verse is that Moshe calls upon the people to affirm their commitment to all of God’s laws.  Rashi, however, cites a Midrashic interpretation from the Midrash Tanchuma, explaining the phrase “This day, the Lord your God commands…” to mean, “Each day, they shall be new in your eyes, as though you were commanded them that very day.”  Moshe speaks here of the joy and excitement of mitzva observance, how we are to approach each mitzva each day with the enthusiasm and energy of doing something new, for the very first time. 
Commenting on the next phrase – “you shall observe and perform them” – Rashi writes, again citing from the Tanchuma, “A heavenly voice blesses him: If you brought bikkurim today, then you shall do so again next year.”  According to this reading, “you shall observe and perform them” is not a command, but rather a promise, that if the people faithfully observe the annual mitzvot (such as bikkurim) one year, then they will do so the following year, as well.
            A number of writers, including the Chatam Sofer, raised the question of how the Midrash could interpret the verse as making such a promise.  Is it really possible that anyone who fulfilled the mitzva of bikkurim (or any mitzva, for that matter) is guaranteed to live another year?  Are we to believe that nobody who properly fulfilled this mitzva ever died before having the opportunity to fulfill it again the following year?
            Rav Moshe Pollack of Bonyhad, in his Va-yedaber Moshe, explains that, quite obviously, the Midrash does not intend to guarantee continued life to anyone who fulfills this mitzva.  Rather, he suggests, the Midrash conveys her an educational message.  As mentioned, the Midrash understands the first clause in this verse as speaking of the importance of excitement and enthusiasm in the performance of mitzvot.  The Midrash here teaches that if we approach mitzvot with joy and zeal, then we are more likely to ensure that our children will choose to embrace a Torah lifestyle.  If one “brings bikkurim,” sacrificing his time, energy and assets for God joyfully, then he is assured that this legacy will continue through his progeny.  The mitzvot will be fulfilled again the following year by him, either literally, or in the sense of the perpetuation of the Torah values he succeeded in instilling within his offspring.  The more joy and enthusiasm we incorporate into our mitzva observance, the more attractive Torah life becomes to our children and to everyone around us, thus enhancing our ability to positively influence them to follow our example and embrace the Torah’s timeless laws and values.