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ושמחת בכל הטוב... אתה והלוי

You shall be glad with all the goodness… you and the Levi. (26:11)

When the Jew celebrates his good fortune, he must see to it that the Levi, who does not have a designated portion in Eretz Yisrael, is included. Rashi comments that the Levis’ dispensation concerning the Bikkurim, the first fruits, applies only as long as the Leviim do not plant produce in the designated Arei Ha’Leviim, cities set aside for the Leviim. If his plantings yield produce, he must take the first fruits and bring them to the Bais Hamikdash. Implied from this halachah is that, even though Shevet Levi was not enslaved in Egypt as were his brethren, he is…

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וירעו אותנו המצרים

The Egyptians mistreated us. (26:6)

The Egyptians were cruel to us, making us suffer and imposing harsh slavery on us. We cried to G-d, G-d of our ancestors, and He heard our voice; he saw our suffering, our harsh labor, and our distress. (26:6,7) Interestingly, Chazal (quoted in the Haggadah) interpret each of the latter phrases: our suffering; our harsh labor; and our distress. They appear, however, to have ignored the beginning of the pasuk, Va’yareiu osanu ha’Mitzrim, “The Egyptians were cruel to us, making us suffer and imposing harsh slavery on us.” In the Haggadah, the second part of the pasuk is explained as…

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ולקחת מראשית כל פרי האדמה אשר תביא מארצך

That you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land. (26:2)

The mitzvah of Bikkurim, bringing the first fruits to the Bais Hamikdash, teaches us the significance of hakoras hatov, recognizing the good/benefits we receive and paying gratitude to our benefactor – which, in the case of Bikkurim, is Hashem. While anyone who possesses a modicum of common sense understands the importance of gratitude, we do not realize how far the obligation for gratitude goes and how one who does not live with hakoras hatov as a way of life is considered a deficient human being. The Ramchal (Mesillas Yesharim 8) underscores the importance of every human being aware of and…

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תחת אשר לא עבדת את ד' אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב

Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart. (28:47)

Simply, this pasuk admonishes us for a lack of joy in performing mitzvos. We perform mitzvos, but without interest, excitement, passion and, most of all, joy. Is this a valid reason to become the victim of all these curses? One would think that observance should be the deciding factor. Yet, we see that indifferent observance is almost worse than nonobservance. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to quote and offer personal exegesis to explain the dynamics of joy and its inherent significance in determining the validity and worthiness of one’s mitzvah observance. I would like to take a…

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ובאו עליך כל הקללות האלה ... כי לא שמעת בקול ד' אלקיך לשמרמצותיו וחקתיו אשר צוך.

All these curses will come upon you … because you will not have hearkened to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, to observe His commandments and decrees that He commanded you. (28:45)

Halfway through the Tochachah, Rebuke, in the midst of the frightening curses, the Torah gives us two reasons for this formidable punishment: We did not listen to Hashem (i.e. did not perform His mitzvos); we did not serve Him with joy. Understandably, not listening, disregarding Hashem’s command, blatantly not observing His ordinances, is reason for such severe punishment. Should a Jew who serves Hashem without joy, whose observance is lackluster, be held in such contempt as to deserve these curses? Perhaps, we may suggest that the Torah is presenting only one reason: our lack of observance. The Torah, however, immediately…

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וענית ואמרת לפני ד' אלקיך

Then you shall call out and say before Hashem, your G-d. (26:5)

Bikkurim, offering the first fruits to the Kohen, symbolizes the Jew dedicating everything in his possession to Hashem. (Incidentally, our greatest possession is “ourselves.” Thus, we should keep in mind that we should wholly dedicate to Hashem, all of “ourselves”.) As part of the Bikkurim ritual, the one who brings the first fruits makes a declaration recording our history and salvation from such ignominious scoundrels as Lavan – who attempted to uproot the very underpinnings of our people by destroying Yaakov Avinu – to Pharaoh, the despot who enslaved us for over two centuries. He relates how we prayed, cried,…

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ויתשם ד' מעל אדמתם באף ובחמה ... וישלכם אל ארץ אחרת

Hashem removed them from upon their soil, with anger, with wrath …. He cast them to another land. (29:27)

Hashem was angry against the Land, to the point that He was about to bring on it the curses of the Torah. Instead, He removed Klal Yisrael from the Land and sent them into exile. Horav Yosef Nechemiah Kornitzer, zl, explains that actually being exiled from the Holy Land was to our benefit. Once the decree went out against the Land, it could not be rescinded. Had we been there, we would have suffered immeasurably – if we would even survive. Thus, Hashem’s benevolence and compassion shined through and came to the fore as it always does. He exiled us….

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תחת אשר לא עבדת את ד' אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל

Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant. (28:47)

If we ever have needed clear, incontrovertible proof that a joyful attitude in life is important, we have it in this pasuk. Furthermore, the Torah is teaching us that mitzvah performance sans joy is of little significance. In fact, it leads a person to renege his observance eventually. Proof positive is the fact that the Torah attributes the cause of the ninety-eight curses, maledictions, punishments to our lack of joy in mitzvah observance. We translate simchah as joy. In contrast to happiness, which is a state of being, joy is a state of the moment. One can be surrounded with…

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ונתנך ד' לראש ולא לזנב והיית רק למעלה ולא תהיה למטה

Hashem shall place you as a head and not as a tail; you shall be only above, and you shall not be below. (28:13)

The Ramban explains that the two terms are not repetitious. It is possible to be a leader to some and a follower of others. Hashem promises that if Klal Yisrael is worthy, they will follow no one. They will be highly respected – by everyone. Horav Ezriel Hildeshaimer, zl, explains that a person who grows up amid luxury, who is used to and comforted by the finer things in life, will invariably not be impressed when he is “bumped up,” elevated to another class of living. He has had so much exposure to a grandiose lifestyle, that a little more…

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וירא את ענינו ואת עמלנו ואת לחצנו

And He saw our affliction, our travail, and our oppression. (26:7)

In the Haggadah, Chazal expound, “V’es amaleinu, our affliction – eilu ha’banim, this refers to our children.” Ibn Ezra and Ritva support this idea. One wonders why Chazal would expound a pasuk in a manner totally inconsistent with the vernacular of the pasuk. The Torah addresses the cruel and brutal labor to which the Jews were subjected in Egypt. How do children enter into the equation? Horav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, zl (quoted in V’Zos HaTorah by Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger), observes that the word amal is always used in connection to the toil that a person expends for something that he…

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