Ki Tavo: Thoughtful Mitzvot

Moshe Burt


Parsha Ki Tavo continues in the same theme track with last week's Parsha Ki Teitzei and several of the previous Parshiyot in discussing Mitzvot which teach kindness, compassion and attentiveness to others.

Ki Tavo begins with the Halachot of Bikkurim -- the first fruits which were brought to the Kohen as a thanksgiving as  well as both rememberance of Pharaoh's cruelty and Hashem's deliverance of B'nai Yisrael from Mitzrayim to a land flowing with milk and honey.  Our Parsha then enunciates the laws concerning Ma'aser and it's declaration regarding the required tithes.

The Halachot of Bikkurim, albeit a learning exercise L'Shem Shemayim, theoretical until the time of Moshiach and the Beit HaMikdash actualizes the performance of the mitzvah, brings to mind a discussion concerning a Mishnah in perackim (chapters) in Mishnayot Terumot.  To this author, this illustration is troubling and is a major paradigm of what happens when Mishnayot are learned in a vaccuum, without the further insights of Gemora.

The discussion centers around Perek 4, Mishnayot 3 and 4 as rendered in Pinhas Kehati's analysis of Mishnayot Terumot perek 4, Mishnah 4 pages 47-48) where one who is generous would give 1/40th of his Terumot to the Kohen, one who is average would give 1/50th and one who is grudging would give 1/60th.

These parameters seem pretty cut and dry until one considers possible individual situations which could arise when one is designating Terumot for the Kohen, i.e. such as the case where an individual designates an agent to set aside his Terumah and, either "the agent knows the owner's mind" regarding Terumot, but for whatever reason was not careful, or the agent "does not know the owner's mind" and sets aside a larger amount than the owner's intent -- i.e. a generous amount, or sets aside the average amount or the grudging amount. In the case where any of the 3 situations occurs, the Mishnah deems the owner's Terumah a "valid Terumah."

But wait a minute!  The Terumot designated by the owner's agent is at variance with the owner's kavanah (intent), i.e. if the owner always sets aside a generous amount for the Kohen, but the agent, either through his own carlessness, or perhaps, not knowing know his owner's mind having been newly appointed as agent, set aside 1/60th as if a grudging portion.

And what if, due to individual extenuating circumstances, the owner did not or was not able to review the Kohen's Terumah before it's delivery?  In such cases, according to the perek and Mishnah of Terumah, when the Terumah is brought before the Kohen (i.e. 1/50th or 1/60th where 1/40th was intended) it is deemed "valid Terumah."

"Valid?"   What about the owner's kavanah? Isn't one's kavanah -- intent a central tenant of Judaism?   How can it be that one who is always generous now be viewed and deemed as average or grudging by the Kohen, or more importantly, by Hashem from Whom the Kohen serves as  the vessel of blessings?  There just has to be a merchanism -- an "escape clause" which would render such Terumah as invalid as it is at variance with the owner's intent.  Such a mechanism can then enable the owner and/or his agent go back and start again, thus designating a portion appropriate to the owner's intent.

Sure enough, a review of Gemora Bava Metzia (Shottenstein Edition with English) pages 22a2- 22a-3 provides such a mechanism.  Footnote #20 states citing Rashi:

When a person separates Terumah, his act is valid only if he is aware of what he is doing.  Thus, it may be derived from the scriptual source... that the agents' acts are valid only if the principal is aware of what he [presumably the agent] is doing, having appointed him beforehand.

And the Gemora Nedarim, page 59a-1 (Shottenstein edition with English) cites R; Abba:
 …Since if he wishes, he can petition a sage or panel of judges for [their annulment] — they [presumably the Terumah] are like a forbidden item for which there is a remedy…
The Gemora questions:
 But Terumah, which is also something for which he can, if he wishes, petition a sage or a panel of judges for annulment…
Footnote #6 on this Gemora is more explicit:
Anything that becomes sanctified through a verbal declaration, such as… Terumah, can have its declaration annulled by a sage (Rashi, Pesachim 46b, Rashbam, Bava Basra 120b). Terumah is therefore subject to annulment on the basis of both a[n] opening or regret… like all nedarim, vows.
So what is the point of this entire exercise?  The question occurs to this author as whether accomplishing a learning alone, without the variables of other texts which might mitigate or complete the learning -- is that what Hashem wants, particularly when speaking of Kavanah -- which is so central to Judaism?  Does Hashem want closed-ended defined time-period learning of any text based on the premise of human nature -- Derech HaTeva -- of possible drop-outism due to "boredom"?   What is the value in the higher world of learning based on such a defined time period?  Isn't s'kar -- credit in the heavens, given for learning which is give-and-take and more fully understood?  And perhaps, can it be that closed-ended defined time-period learning comes from the same place as insensitive speed-of-light tefillahs, the Shaliach Tzibbor who mumble-jumbles, mispronounces or misses words of Chazarat Hashatz (repetition of Shemonah Esrei) or the 30 to 45 second Aleinu ??  Is that what Hashem really wants from us?

May we, the B'nai Yisrael merit that our brethren -- the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem.  May we have the courage to prevent the possibility of any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel's and Judaism's destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, speedily, in our time”, — now: Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad,