Read This First

Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at
responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Ki Savo #1

First Fruits

“And it will be when you come to the land which Hashem your G-d gave you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and dwell in it. You will take the first of all the fruits of the earth which you will bring from the land which Hashem your G-d gave you, and you will put [them] in a basket, and you will go to the place where Hashem your God chose to rest His Name. And you will go to the Kohen who will be in those days, and you will say to him, ‘I declare today to Hashem your G-d that I came to the land which Hashem swore to our fathers [that He would] give to us.’ And the Kohen will take the basket from your hand and place it before the Altar of Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 26:1-4).

Moshe Rabbeinu instructed the Jewish people about a special mitzvah which they would fulfill when they settled in Eretz Yisrael. The first ripe fruits of seven specific varieties would be set aside, placed in a basket, and brought by the owner to the Beis HaMikdash, to be given to the Kohen. Bikkurim, as the first fruits were known, were brought from wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Chazal describe the loving care lavished by the owners on beautifying this mitzvah, and their joyous trip to Jerusalem to give their precious first fruits to the Kohen (Bikkurim 3).

A Basketful of Mitzvos

The Tzror HaMor (Devarim 7) cites the Zohar, which draws a parallel between bringing Bikkurim to the Kohen in the Beis HaMikdash, and the “basket” of mitzvos we bring with us to the World to Come. Based on the words of the pessukim, the Zohar provides a glimpse into how our mitzvos are welcomed in Heaven.

“And it will be when you come to the land which Hashem your G-d gave you” is a reference to the World to Come, the land of eternal life. We should not come there empty-handed – we should be bringing along the “fruits” we were sent to this world to produce: our lifetime of Torah, mitzvos, and belief in Hashem. When a righteous soul arrives with its “basket” of Torah and mitzvos in the next world, “the place where Hashem your G-d chose to rest His Name,” Michael, the Heavenly Kohen Gadol, takes it and presents it before Hashem’s Altar in Heaven. The contents of that basket are our true accomplishments in this world, and they will last forever.

Question for Discussion:

We have a lifetime to fill up the “basket of mitzvos” that we will each present in Heaven after our hundred and twenty years in this world. Which mitzvah would you like to see in a prominent place in your “basket,” and why?

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Responses:

Moshe Marmerstein from New York: For a number of reasons I would choose quality tefillah, something I work on now and hope to continue working on in the future. Like Bikkurim, davening is an expression of gratitude to Hashem for all He gives us. Through davening we have a relationship with Hashem, and can request not only our own needs, but those of the Jewish people as a whole. For those interested in working on their davening, I recommend Rav Shimshon Pincus’s She’arim B’Tefillah (also available in English translation under the title “Gates of Prayer”).

My wife Miryam: Hachnassas orchim – welcoming guests. I am often up until 2:00 a.m. or even 3:00 a.m. on Thursday nights, preparing Shabbos meals for our family and up to twenty guests. The enormous amount of work that goes into every Shabbos meal is a labor of love. I sincerely believe that the more positive I am about the mitzvah, the better the food tastes, and I put much love and good kavanos intoevery ingredient and every dish. It would be easy to become resentful and start thinking, “I can’t bear to look at even one more onion,” or “How many more carrots do I have to peel?” But that would have a negative impact on my cooking… Instead, I remember to be grateful that I can welcome others into my home, can buy the food to serve them, and have my ovens to cook in.

Our twelve-year-old daughter hopes for a basketful of Kibbud Av V’Em (honoring parents) – and “Kibbud siblings.” Why these two? “Because they are very difficult mitzvos, and the greater the difficulty, the greater the reward.”

Parshas Ki Savo #2

Confession

“And you will say before Hashem your G-d, ‘I have removed the sanctified items from the house, and I have also given [the tithes]… I obeyed Hashem my G-d, I did like all that He commanded me’” (Devarim 26:13-14).

Once the Jews settled in Eretz Yisrael and started farming their land, they would be required to set aside a portion of their crops for the various maasros (tithes) and charitable gifts mandated by the Torah. The tithing system operated on a seven-year cycle, with certain tithes only given during specified years of the cycle. On the last day of Pesach in the fourth and seventh years of the cycle, the landowner would make a formal declaration that he had given all the required maasros and fulfilled all the related halachos.

This declaration was known as viduy maasros, literally “the tithe confession.” This title is surprising. A confession usually implies an admission of guilt, and in this instance, the opposite appears to be true – the landowner states that he has fulfilled his obligations. What was he “confessing?”

The commentators suggest a number of answers to this question. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, rosh yeshivah of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, offered a powerful insight relevant to just about every area of our lives. In viduy maasros, the landowner is not confessing his failure to fulfill the fundamental requirements of separating maasros – on the contrary, he is declaring that he did fulfill them. His failure is reflected in the word k’chol,“like all.” With this one word, the landowner admits that occasionally his fulfillment of the mitzvah was partial, rather than perfect. Overall, he did what he was supposed to – at least more or less. The basics were in place, but he was not always so strict about the details, and at times, his measurements may have been approximate, not exact – he did k’chol, “like all,” but not kol, “all.”

Almost

Parents especially can appreciate this concept: we ask a child to clear the table after a meal, and he does… except for just an item or two left behind on the table, or out on the counter instead of in the refrigerator.

A friend recalled a day that seemed to revolve around “k’chol,” rather than “kol.” He took out the garbage before Shabbos, and asked his son to bring the garbage can back inside. The son put it back in the kitchen, but did not replace the garbage bag in the can. “Did you forget something?” my friend asked. “Sure,” the boy smiled, “I forgot to ask someone to put in a new bag!”

Later that evening, this father swept up the dining room, and asked another child to bring the small brush and dustpan they used to gather up the pile of crumbs. She brought them right away as requested… and left them next to the pile on the floor, without sweeping the crumbs into the dustpan. K’chol, but not quite kol.

Question for Discussion:

What do you do in a manner that is k’chol – partial, but not complete – and how can you do it better?

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Response:

Many of our guests had the same reaction: davening. They daven, but not very well. One way to improve is by keeping in mind the wise words of Rabbi Gershon Bess of Los Angeles: “We are going to daven anyway. Why not do it with kavanah?”

Ben from London mentioned a thought from Rabbi Yissocher Frand on the topic of lashon hara (forbidden speech). Rabbi Frand wrote that there is a tremendous awareness of this prohibition in our times: even when we cannot resist the temptation to share a bit of gossip, we will feel guilty enough to begin by saying, “I know it’s lashon hara, but….”

Is this an instance of k’chol, partial fulfillment of the mitzvah? Not really. Even so, understanding that derogatory gossip is wrong is a step in the right direction.