Parshat Ki Tavo: Parsha Journeys

Parshat Ki Tavo discusses the blessings that were given on Har Grizim and the curses that were given on Har Avel. While both mountains were situated near each other and enjoyed the exact same climatic conditions, Har Grizim was lush and verdant while Har Avel remained barren. Rav Hirsch explains that this is a timeless lesson in free will. Two people can be given identical capabilities, yet one will go in one direction while the other may go the opposite way. You can choose to be the mountain of blessing or the hill of curses. It’s all up to you.

The essence of life is choice.  As our choices diminish, our lives become less meaningful. Human nature is to avoid difficult decisions, but if we don’t proactively choose life we inevitably choose death.  The legendary Sara Schenirer would say, one should live a life of chayim sheb’chayim, every minute should be thought out, not lived perfunctorily. Choosing life means seriously considering how to raise our children, treat our spouse, and fill our days. What stands high on our priority list? Is it career advancement, shopping, fitting in, or tikkun hamiddot and spending more time with our family? A meaningful life is a collection of meaningful moments. People who don’t view life as a choice never change or grow.

In the tochacha the Torah states, “You will bear sons and daughters but they will not be yours, because they will go into captivity.” The Chazon Ish explains that this refers to our generation. Millions of our brethren who have grown up entirely ignorant of Judaism are the tinokot shenishbu referred to in the Torah. Why have we suffered these great losses? The parsha continues, “Tachat asher lo avadata et Hashem Elokecha b’simcha. Because you did not serve Hashem with joy.” If we fail to show our children that living a Torah lifestyle is a wondrous, delightful experience, we will lose them. Indeed, Rav Moshe Feinstein noted that even those who sacrificed their livelihood to keep Shabbat in early 20th century America, lost their children to assimilation because they would so frequently sigh, “Oy siz shver tzu zein a yid. It’s difficult to be a Jew.”  Each of us in our own way can reach out and bring our brethren closer to Torah.

We find many mitzvot in the Torah that command us to bring our “firsts” to Hashem. This includes the first of the shearing, dough, children, and animals. Why did Hashem ask for these “firsts” rather than the best?  We find the answer in Kohelet. “Tov achrit davor mereishito. A good end emanates from the beginning.” The “first” is the root and foundation of all that follows. Just as a hairline crack on a building’s foundation can endanger the entire structure, an imperfection in the root of holiness will manifest all that follows. That is why we immediately dedicate our first gleanings to Hashem.  Similarly, Elul and the High Holy Days are an opportune time to grab the moment and repent, because whatever we become on the first day of the year will very critically affect our entire year.

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

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