Excerpted from Dr. Mandell Ganchow Coming of Age: An Anthology of Divrei Torah for Bar and Bat Mitzvah Click here to buy the book
Parshat Ki Tavo
by Elliott Ganchrow
My dear bar mitzvah boy, the parashah which you read so beautifully this morning, Ki Tavo, begins with a description of the mitzvah of bikkurim, the first fruits. Each landowner in Eretz Yisrael is commanded to set aside the first fruits of the year and bring them to the Beit Ha-Mikdash in Jerusalem. The fruits are to be presented to the kohen, at which time the farmer makes the declaration that begins “Arami oved avi” (which is now recited at the Passover seder).
The mishnayot in Massechet Bikkurim describe the pomp and circumstance which surrounded the bringing of the bikkurim by the farmers to Jerusalem. The procession involved a large group led by an ox whose horns were plated with gold. A flute was played at the head of the parade, announcing that the bikkurim procession was headed toward Jerusalem.
But why this mitzvah? Why did the Torah choose bikkurim to be presented in such a unique and public fashion? What differentiates bikkurim from, say, ma’aser sheni, which is also brought to Jerusalem?
Rav Mordechai Willig refers to the first section of Ki Tavo as the parashah of hakarat ha-tov, gratitude. Gratitude, he explains, is an essential middah that every ben Torah must internalize. The Ramban explains that bikkurim exemplify gratitude, because inherent in the act of bringing the fruits to Jerusalem is an acknowledgement and thanks to Hashem for keeping His promise to our forefathers by giving the Land of Israel to their descendants.
Elsewhere, the Torah emphasizes the lengths one must go to to demonstrate hakarat ha-tov. Prior to the commencement of the first of the ten plagues, Hashem commanded Aharon, rather than Moshe, to stretch his hand over the water in order to turn the water into blood. Why did Hashem ask Aharon and not Moshe to initiate this plague? Rashi explains that since the river had protected Moshe when he was a child, hidden in a small ark by his mother, Moshe could not be the one to strike it. This was a way for Moshe to express his gratitude to the water, an inanimate object, for the good that was done to him. For similar reasons Aharon, and not Moshe, initiated the plague of lice by striking the sand, since again, as Rashi explains, Moshe was “indebted” to the sand for concealing the body of the Egyptian whom Moshe killed prior to fleeing Egypt.
Expressions of gratitude are also mandated by Chazal as part of the daily life of an observant Jew. We thank Hashem each morning in the “Modeh Ani” prayer for returning our neshamah to us after a night’s sleep. We recite “Modim” in our Amidah three times a day, thanking Hashem for our lives and for the miracles that He does for us every day. It is clear that expressions of gratitude are considered vitally important by the Torah and by Chazal.
Yet a closer look at the parashah reveals an even greater lesson in gratitude. The section of bikkurim ends with the words, “You shall rejoice in all the good that Hashem, your God, has given to you and to your household.” This is similar to the mishnah in Pirkei Avot which states, “Ben Zoma says….Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot ” (4:1). The gratitude that the farmer must feel should not be limited to the gift of Eretz Yisrael or of the first fruits. He must recognize that Hashem has blessed him with “goodness,” and this should cause him to be happy and satisfied with his lot. The ultimate gratitude comes when a person recognizes that he has been blessed by Hashem with everything that he has in life.
My dear bar mitzvah boy, just as it is important to express gratitude to Hashem and just as it is important to express gratitude to inanimate objects, so too it is important to express gratitude to your fellow man who does good things for you. This includes not only your friends, but also your teachers, your family, and, of course, your parents who have devoted their lives toward your betterment. May you be blessed with goodness throughout your life and may you always acknowledge such goodness with the proper hakarat ha-tov.
Mr. Ganchrow is an attorney at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.