Ki Tavo: Continuous compassion

We most clearly demonstrate our attachment to Hashem through following in His ways, through acts of chesed.

Tags: Charity
Rabbanit Shira Smiles

Judaism Young women study Torah
Young women study Torah
Flash 90

The Torah commands us that when we come to the land Hashem has promised us, in the third year of the shemittah cycle, we give an additional tenth of our produce to the Levite, the proselyte, the orphan and the widow. Then we are to make a declaration before Hashem that sounds very much like a confession: "I have removed the holy things from my house, I have given to the Levite... and to the widow according to whatever commandment You commanded me. I have not transgressed... I have hearkened to Your voice. I have acted according to everything as You commanded me. Gaze down from Your holy abode... and bless Your people Israel..." Because of the terminology, this declaration is indeed referred to as viduy maasrot - Confession of the Tithes.

Several questions immediately come to mind. First, if we have done all that Hashem has commanded, If we have actually fulfilled a mitzvah, what is there to confess? Further, the Torah uses "Hashkef mim'on kodshecha/ gaze down from Your holy abode" generally for Hashem seeing the sins of man and punishing us. This is the only time this phrase is used for Hashem to witness the performance of a mitzvah. To this latter anomaly, the Gemarrah explains that performing mitzvoth, especially those of chesed as inherent in this act, has the power to transform a curse into a blessing. 

Our verse asks Hashem to gaze down from His maon/abode. Rav Moshe Goldstein in  Shaarei Chaim notes that maon is the fifth of the seven heavens. It is that heaven where the angels sing to Hashem all night but, because Hashem wants to hear the voices of Bnei Yisroel, the angels are silent during the day. These are songs of joy, as alluded to in the introduction to the bentching at a wedding, "Let us bless our God shehasimcha bim'ono/in Whose abode is this celebration..." It is in the maon, the abode of joy, that is the seat of blessings. But while Hashem wants to give us blessings, we must activate the delivery system through our prayers, and the most auspicious times for prayers is after performing mitzvoth.

Rav Avraham Schorr brings support for this idea in Halekach VeHalebuv  based on an insight on the Chafetz Chayim. There is a biblical command to bless Hashem after a meal, to bentch. Yet, while the blessings are concluded after the fourth blessing ending in the words al yechasreinu, the liturgy continues with multiple requests that Hashem sustain us, bless our table, and send us the Prophet Eliyahu to herald our redemption, among other requests. Similarly, continues Rabbi Schorr, traditionally a woman adds personal requests for family and for Klal Yisroel after she lights her Shabbat candles. We ask Hashem to look down now, and bless us in the merit of the mitzvah we are now performing. These verses are the source of that tradition.

 Nevertheless, it seems strange that we offer a confession at this juncture. Rabbi Wolbe offers a beautiful insight into this verse and indeed into all confession. By focusing on the phrase "before Hashem", (and "before You" in the traditional Yom Kippur confession) Rabbi Wolbe points out that by our statement, we realize we are standing before Hashem and desire a relationship with Him, a relationship we may have denied when we sinned, and a relationship we now wish to foster through mitzvah observance. Here we acknowledge that Hashem always sees us, observing us from His holy abode.

Viduy/Confession is rooted in the word vadai/truth, notes Rabbi Moshe Egbi in Chochmat Hamatzpun. Can I in all honesty say that I have done everything Hashem has asked of me, with the proper focus and intention? Mitzvah observance should not be merely rote, but should be full of aware intention as a means of connecting to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

The Sforno approaches our discussion from a completely different point of view. He maintains that this declaration is in fact a confession of a previous sin, the sin of the golden calf. After all, had we not sinned with the golden calf, the firstborn of each family would have been entitled to these tithes. Instead, we must now remove these holy things, the terumot and ma'asrot, from our homes and give them to the Levites who serve in place of the firstborn. With this declaration, we admit that the mini temples of our homes are no longer worthy of being the suppositories of the terumot and ma'asrot,  and we must now give these gifts to those who serve in Hashem's temple, writes Rabbi Goldwicht z”l in Asufat Ma'arachot. That was the curse and the punishment. But now, by performing this mitzvah, by giving these gifts to others, I have transformed the curse to a blessing.

When I perform this mitzvah, I am filled with the same conflicting emotions as Rosh Hashanah itself generates. I feel both trepidation and joy, gilu biradah, continues Rabbi Goldwich z”lt. While I tremble at my transgression, I am still filled with joy.

How can I feel joy when I know I'm being judged? Rabbi Pincus z”l explains. Rosh Hashanah is not only the Day of Judgment but also the Day we crown Hashem as our King. The shofar blasts herald His coronation. As King, He sits in judgment over us. But as King, He also has the power to pardon us. Standing before Him. we are not impersonal defendants, but His loyal subjects who want to serve Him. The fear and the joy are thus complementary rather than conflicting emotions.

These two emotions are reflected in the themes of the day, writes Rabbi Goldwicht z”l. The Gemarrah tells us to "verbalize before Me Sovereignty, Remembrance and Shofrot. Sovereignty, to make Me King over you; Remembrances that memory of you should rise before Me for the good. And how? Through the shofar." Rabbi Goldwicht z”l explains that the very sounds of the shofar carry within them these contrasting themes, the majesty of teruah and the brokenness of shevarim.  Our prayers on Rosh Hashanah express both our joy and our awe in being Hashem's subjects. They lead to the closeness of our relationship, and motivate Him to move from the Seat of Justice to the Throne of Compassion. Our prayers recognize both Hashem's power and His constant benevolence toward us.

And so, we declare that we have now kept all these precepts involved in this tithing. But since it is in the form of a confession, we must delve more deeply to discover what is missing. Here Rabbi Frand points to one letter in the Hebrew which qualifies our declaration. "k'chol asher tzivisani/As all [according to all] that You commanded me."I have gone through all the motions and performed every letter of the law, but have I really included the joy and full intent of the mitzvah? Do I invest my mitzvah performance with joy? Each time Hashem looks down from His abode, He counts us and scrutinizes us. There is always the danger that we will be found wanting and a plague will descend upon us, writes Rabbi Bloch z”l in Peninei Daas. We must recognize and acknowledge our shortcomings. Is my Shabbos table not only a place for kiddush over wine, but also a place of kedusha/holiness of speech appropriate for Shabbos? But nothing has the power to transform Hashem's judgment to compassion as our practice of chesed.

When we overcome our ego, and treat others with sensitivity and compassion, when we give to others, we awaken those memories in Hashem writes Rabbi Scheinerman in Ohel Moshe. We remind Him of our Childlike faith as we followed Him in the desert, and we arouse in Him the trait of compassion. When we give to others, Hashem will give to us. How can we open the gate of heaven? By opening the gate of our heart. Hashem will gaze down from His abode, see us giving to others, and He will be "moved" to give to us.

In the Avinu Malkeinu prayer we ask Hashem to write us in the Book of Merits. What can that mean? Either we have earned good or we have not. But Rabbi Salomon offers a more meaningful explanation. When we ask Hashem to write us in the Book of Merits, posits Rabbi Salomon, we are not asking for freebies. Rather, we are asking Hashem to present us with opportunities to do acts of chesed for others or to give tzedakah so that we will earn the merits that can save us from evil decrees.  These acts of chesed are not necessarily material and physical aid. A smile or an encouraging word can sometimes be even more meaningful than a monetary gift. Sometimes the best we can offer is a meaningful prayer on another's behalf, writes Rabbi Dov Yoffe. Hashem wants to do chesed for the one who does chesed for others.

Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Teruah. While the simplest translation is that this is the day of blowing the shofar, Rabbi Zvi Meir Silverberg points out in Sichot Hitchazkut that the root of the word is reut, friendship. In other words, in addition to hearing the sounds of the shofar, we should focus on fostering sensitivity to others and investing energy into our relationships with others. In this vein, it is traditional to greet each other with blessings for a good new year, to which the angels add their own blessings and answer Amen.

We often talk about deveikus/devotion to Hashem. We tend to think we demonstrate this through our prayers. In fact, teaches us Rabbi Goldberg inBechol Derochecha, we most clearly demonstrate our attachment to Hashem through following in His ways. We should try to spend Rosh Hashanah doing acts of chesed. For those women who cannot spend the day in shul because of family obligations, know that caring for children or for elderly parents are acts of chesed much loved by Hashem, for He cares for us on a daily basis. And for those who are in shul, do not be judgmental of others. Rather be compassionate and sensitive and give the benefit of the doubt when someone's actions don't fit our vision, for we want Hashem to treat us he same way.

Rashi explains that the essence of this mitzvah of tithing is to be happy and make others, like the Levite, the widows and the orphans, happy. Those who make others happy are worthy of entering Olam Haba/the World to Come immediately, without suffering after death, writes Rabbi Birderman. How do we make others happy? By giving of ourselves to others with love and joy. By looking at others and offering them a smiling countenance in friendship and support. When we give these gifts to others, along with the required tithes, Hashem will look down upon us as well with a smiling countenance of love. May He bless us all with a year of health, plenty and growth.

Note from  Channie Koplowitz Stein ( whose dedication makes this summary possible )

Right before Tisha B'Av I lost a cousin named for my father, Avraham Boruch Halevi ben Bayla uMatisyahu. About two weeks ago (I was in Israel), I suddenly lost another dear cousin, Hanele bas Blima v'Yehudah Hakohain. I have dedicated my work on this shiur l'iluy nishmasom.