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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Ki Tavo

Parshat Ki Tavo

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Ki Tavo                                                                       Print Version
16th of Elul, 5780 | September 5, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Avi Slansky
You’re the Person

Along one of Czar Nicholas I’s travels, he planned on making his way through the city of Vilna. Prior to his trip, he sent a memo that on the day of arrival, there would be a grand show. The entire army would parade through the city, honoring and recognizing the Czar as he passed through. Excitement mounted as the day grew closer, as such a sight would certainly be one to remember.

Early that morning, the soldiers began filling the town square, as did the drummers and pipers. In perfect choreographical arrangement, the gathering crowd stood waiting in eager anticipation for the Czar to appear.

Finally, as the Czar arrived, instead of hearing an erupting cheer and applause, accompanied by celebratory music, there was silence. The Czar motioned for everyone to begin, but there remained no sound. The band did not begin playing, and the soldiers did not start marching; there was no movement at all. The crowd began murmuring, wondering what was going on.

The Czar again motioned for the soldiers and musicians to begin, thinking that perhaps there was a miscommunication, but no one moved. All that could be heard were whispers emanating from the crowd huddled around.

Finally, it became clear that at the front center, there was a stage for the commanding general to stand on and lead the procession. But the general was not there. There was no one to lead, and so, the show did not commence.

Noticing this, the Czar turned aside and motioned to the crowd if anyone was willing to take the stage and lead the men in the procession in the absence of the general. The soldiers turned to one another, looking as to whom would take a stand and step up.

From the back, a small soldier, who had just joined the army weeks ago, came to the front. Turning to the Czar, he motioned his readiness. The Czar returned his offer with the indication that he should make his way to the stage.

Rising to the podium, he began to make motions and gestures, as would the commanding general. The band began playing and soldiers marching. The moving parts of the celebratory ceremony began falling into motion.

Then, from the corner of the procession, the general began walking up to the center, though he was abruptly stopped by the Czar himself. The Czar motioned to him to sit down. Remaining on top of the podium was the small soldier. He performed and commanded everyone to perfection. A standing ovation concluded the procession.

Afterwards, the Czar summoned the real general along with the soldier who had taken his place. “What happened?” asked the Czar of the general. “Why did you come late? How much are you paid to be the general of this army?” The general replied with the generous sum that was his salary. Now turning to the soldier, he asked the same question. The soldier replied with a small sum. The Czar turned to the general and said, “Your wages will be given to this solider who performed as well as he did today.”

The Chofetz Chaim, in relaying this story, commented that there are times in our life when we can be like the small soldier. There are times that we are all waiting for a general, for someone to command the room, and anyone can step up and be that person.
In truth, though, we can rise and become that general. We can rise to the occasion and become someone that we may never had anticipated we could be. We may feel small, but if we take a moment and dig deep into ourselves and appreciate who we are, we would be able to muster the courage to perform brilliantly and prove just what we can accomplish.

Rabbi Yoel Gold
The Song of Generations

When you compose a song, there are a couple of stages. First of all, you need to come up with a tune; then, you have to match it to words. Most importantly, you need to make sure that the tune really jives with the words that you are matching it with.

There are three specific songs, which come to mind though, that do not seem to have their tune and words match. One emphasizes the relationship we have with ourselves; the second, our relationship with our Father in Heaven; and the third, our relationship with the difficulties and struggles of life.

אֲנָא, אֲנָא, אֲנָא

עַבְדָּא דְקֻדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא

I, I, I,
Am A Servant of the Holy One, Blessed is He)

When you look at the words at this song, what would you say is the key word that stands out? I know what you’re thinking: Ana. We say, ““Ana, ana, ana…” Ana is in fact Aramaic for “I.” In essence, then, we are saying, “I…I…I…” It seems strange though. If this song is intended to inspire us to be servants of Hashem (as we mention, I “am a servant of Hashem”), why would we emphasize and stress ourselves, with the word “I” repeated several times.

The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Zev Segal zt”l, gave a beautiful answer.

When we sing the words “Ana” over and over again, we are emphasizing “I…I…I…” because we want to highlight that we are a somebody. We are important. I am here for a reason and purpose. When you internalize the word “Ana – I” – over and over again, repeating it and singing it with all your heart and soul, then you can smoothly transition into becoming a true eved Hashem, servant of Hashem. Only when you deeply feel your self-esteem and self-worth, and hold the recognition in your heart that you matter, can the result be “Avda d’Kudsha B’rich Hu,” that I am a servant of Hashem.

That is how our relationship to ourselves is meant to be. Full of self-worth and deep appreciation for who we are.
There is yet another niggun that I keep repeating to myself during these days. And that is the famous niggun of Chabad:
Avinu Malkieinu Ein Lanu Melech Ela Ata.

אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ אֵין לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ…
אֵין לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ אֶלָּא אָתָּה…

Our Father, Our King, We have no King…
…We have no King, Except You

If you view these two stanzas and think about it, the tune and the words do not seem to be fitting one another, for the words which we repeat are, “We have no King, we have no King.” Why are those the words which we repeat in the tune? If we are trying to coronate Hashem as our King, why would we repeat the words “We have no King”? It ostensibly sounds like we are saying:

We have no King…
…We have no King

When those words stand alone, it seems to be implying, as they literally suggest, that we have no king at all! It would seem to make more sense if the words we repeat would be, “Except You,” wherein we emphasis that Hashem is our King, and there is no one else:

We have no King…
…Except You…Except You

My friend, R’ Eitan Katz, suggested that in fact there is a deep meaning and message behind the tune and words as we say them. We sing the words “We have no King” over and over because we are asking Hashem, “We know that you are our Father and our King… but we don’t want our relationship with You to be like that of a king and his servants. We don’t want to relate to you as if we are distant courtiers. We want nothing except You.”

We therefore keep emphasizing the words “We have no King” because we are stressing and highlighting that this is what we don’t want. We don’t want to experience with You the distance of a King to his subjects. That is what we don’t want, what we don’t want… We want nothing except You, Hashem; a deeply intimate, close and personal relationship.

That is our relationship to our Father in Heaven.

The third song that comes to mind these days is that of Ve’hi She’amda. I grew up Chassidish, and at the Pesach Seder, my family sings the Bobover tune to Vehi She’mada, composed by Reb Bentzion Halberstam hy”d.

וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵיֽנוּ וְלָנֽוּ. שֶׁלֹא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד, עָמַד עָלֵיֽנוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנֽוּ. אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר, עוֹמְדִים עָלֵיֽנוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנֽוּ
.וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּד

And this (Hashem’s blessings and the Torah) is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.

In the Bobover tune, the words, “Shelo echad echad bilvad amad aleinu – For not only one arose and tried to destroy us” is repeated over and over.”

In English, the words we repeat sound like, “For not only one arose and tried to destroy us… For not only one arose and tried to destroy us…” And then the stanza, “In every generation they try to destroy us” is as well repeated. The last words of the song, however, “Hashem saves us from their hands,” is not repeated, and comes only at the very end of the song, almost as if it is an afterthought. But why would that be? Why would be emphasize in the chorus how our enemies have attempted to attack and annihilate us?

Yonatan Razel and I go back to the days when we learned in the Jerusalem Kollel together. I remember him telling me, “When I was a kid, my family sang the niggun of Ve’hi She’amda with the chorus highlighting the fact that our enemies have tried to destroy us. When I get older, I want to compose a niggun that will emphasize the positive, that Hashem has always saved us.” And indeed, the beloved tune of Ve’hi She’amda composed by Yonatan Razel is now known around the world.

But in defense of the Bobover Rebbe, I would say that there is a very good reason as to why we stress the fact that our enemies have been out to destroy us. It is because when we face challenge and difficulty, that is what makes us who we are.

The Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) was written in Bavel, and it is primarily studied throughout the world today, more so than the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud). Why is this so? Because the Talmud Bavli was written and compiled amidst great difficult and trying times. It was written amid the darkness of exile and persecution. Yet, for that very reason, it has remained with us throughout these many generations. It has traveled with us throughout our hardships, and given us hope and faith. It is the difficulty in life which gives us destiny.

Many organizations in Klal Yisroel have started as the waves of tragedy and adversity passed over individuals and families. But those very moments are what have turned our Jewish nation into the magnanimous people that we are.

Even when it is frigid cold outside, we still raise our cups and give a l’chaim, because we know that we will never become defeated. We will never wane nor weaken. We will always be marching to the tune of “Chazak chazak v’nit’chazek – Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened.”

Rabbi Gabi Fried
Our Lease on Life

As we say Modeh Ani every morning upon arising from bed and thank Hashem for returning our soul to us, we conclude by stating, “Rabba emunasecha – Great is Your faithfulness.” Simply understood, when we deposited our neshama with Hashem at night as we went to sleep, we placed our faith in Him that He would return it to us in the morning. It is in respect to this that we declare Hashem’s faith to be great, for He fulfilled His “side of the bargain.” We returned our neshama to Him and He returned it back to us.

Yet it would seem a bit presumptuous. Hashem gave us life to begin with and is in no way obligated to return our neshama to us in the morning. Even if He does not return it to us, it would not make Him “unfaithful,” for after all, it is His decision. What then do we really mean with these concluding words?

In fact, we would be better suited were we to understand the analogy of depositing and returning in the following way.
Imagine you decided to go on a three-month vacation and gave permission to a close friend of yours to borrow your car during that time. A month into your trip, you return back home for just a couple of days for some necessary reason, and ask your friend if you can use your own car. “Of course,” he complies. As soon as you take a look at it, though, you know something is amiss.

There are scratches and a few dents along the exterior and the inside is not as clean as you left it. After a few days of using it, you wonder what you should do. Should you return it to your friend, who has until now not been treating well, and risk even further damage? Or should you allow him to continue using it in the hope that by the time you return in two months, any dents and damages will be repaired? You decide on taking the latter approach.

Sure enough, when you return two months later, the car looks just like new, if not better. You smile and feel good that you chose to allow your friend to continue using it.

The same is true of us. When we return our neshama to Hashem at night, it oftentimes comes with its dents and bruises. Throughout that day, we may have committed our fair share of mistakes and sins. So what choice do we leave Hashem with? Keep our neshama in Heaven and avoid it being even further tarnished, or return it in the hope that by the time our lease on life is over, our neshama will have been cleansed through teshuva and it will look even better than before.

Hashem, until it is our time to leave this world, decides on the latter approach. He has faith that we will mend our ways, and therefore returns our neshama to us every morning, even if we have committed many mistakes and done wrong. But that is because He has the hope and belief that we will fix it all before our lease is over.

What must be done on our end, though, is ensure that we do not procrastinate and leave unfinished work for the time when it will be too late. It would be an extreme pity if we would continue putting off what we know we can fix and should fix, only to realize one day that it is too late and the time for us to turn in our lease has arrived. “Repent one day before your death,” exhorts the Mishnah (Avos 2:15). But this only happens if we view each day as our last, and with the attitude that we should make improvements now, not later. So long as we can do this, we will be in perfect position to return our neshama to Hashem in its pristine, beautiful condition, and in fact, even better than it was before we ever received it to begin with.

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