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Ki Tavo 5761

By: Rav Ari Shames

I am a wonderful person:

I woke up this morning and went to shul and davened the entire teffila with kavanah, I gave an incredible amount of tzedakah as an anonymous donation. I helped an old lady cross the street, I dealt honestly and even politely at business with enough time to return home and learn Torah for a couple of hours, spend time with my family and volunteer for communal concerns. I spoke no loshon hara, didn't fester a single ill feeling toward anyone that I had encountered.....

I could go on and on but I think that the speech that I have just started may seem strange to many of you for two reasons. Firstly most of you know me and find it very hard to believe, but even if every word would be true, I believe that we would be taken aback by my unabashed way of gloating about my accomplishments. If I am as big a tzaddik as I claim to be surely I would also be modest enough not to brag about it.

As strange as such a speech would be it would seem that this is precisely what the Torah mandates for us in the Mitzvah mentioned in this weeks parsha known as "Viduy Maasrot".

When thou has made an end of tithing all the tithes of thy produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be replete; then thou shalt say before the Lord thy G-d, I have removed the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou has commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them: I have not eaten of it in my mourning, neither have I consumed any part of it when unclean, nor given of it for the dead: but I have hearkened to the voice of the Lord my G-d, and have done according to all that thou has commanded me. (Devarim 26:12-14)

On Pesach of the Fourth and the Seventh Year of the Shmitta cycle after having distributed all of our "trumot and maasrot" we are to make a declaration concerning how perfect we were in fulfilling all of our obligations. We state that we have allocated the correct portions to the appropriate persons, we have not been negligent in any of the Mitzvot, and we did not mistreat or show a lack of respect for the holiness of the produce.

Why does the Torah insist on not only proper execution of the Mitzvot but in this case, and in this case only, require as well, a self promoting speech to go along with it?

There are several answers to this question, I would like to suggest an answer that I have yet to find in print.

The entire realm of "trumot and maasrot" is unique in nature. On the one hand it shares elements similar to all other "kosher" issues. In the same manner in which we are prohibited from eating certain foods at any time, like pork, others require "halachic preparation" such as shechita. Our fruit and vegtables are the same it would seem that we are not allowed to eat produce of Eretz Yisrael unless we have removed certain portions of it. In other words in Eretz Yisrael a fruit platter is not kosher unless one is certain that it has been properly tithed. As soon as the "bothersome" elements of the produce are removed we are free to enjoy the fruit. This is only half of the story, as we make our fruits and vegetables kosher we do not make the troubling declaration discussed earlier. The declaration comes only after the second component of the halachot of trumot and maasrot, we must actually distribute the tithes or gifts to the proper recipients. We must see to it that the Kohen, Levi and poor people actually receive their share of the "fruits" of our labor. It is only after completion of this stage that we are able to make our little speech. It is not sufficient that we are eating "kosher" we must see to it that others are eating. The Torah has singled out this unit of Mitzvot, which combines the classic Bein Adam Lamakom elements in requiring us to see to it that our food is kosher, with the Bein Adam Lechavero elements in our ensuring the rights of those in our society for whom we have an obligation to provide for.

It is not enough to worry about how "frum" one may be but as well, in the same mitzvah we must show the Torah's sensitivity to our society.

Only when we have synthesized these two elements can we then feel comfortable in saying the Viduy Maasrot, proclaiming our commitment to both G-d and our society.

After having made such a brave statement the Torah continues with a surprising pasuk:

Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou didst swear to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Devarim 26:15)

We call upon G-d to fulfill His part of the deal, He should look down from the heavens and bless His nation and His land. If we are able to fulfill our dual calling we have the right to "demand" of G-d that He not sit by idly. The surprising element of this passuk is its contractual nature. Contracts are not only a vehicle that one can use to sell a piece of property but form the basis of our lives in general. When one enters into a contract with G-d he has the rights to make demands and "force" G-d to comply. If we are to adopt this explanation it can be said that the Viduy Maasrot is the expression of an individual who has lived up to his requirements in both segments of the Torah in an integrated fashion, having earned the rights to turn to G-d and solicit His input as well.

Shabbat Shalom


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