Many store owners post a dollar bill on the wall behind the cash register to remember their first dollar of profit. We have a related concept in this parsha, where we take the first fruit from that year’s crop and bring it to the Beis Hamikdash. There, we recite a special thank you to Hashem for the bounty we received. Recognizing all the good things Hashem gives us—and saying thank you out loud—is fundamental to who we are as Jews. Every morning we wake up and immediately give thanks to Hashem!
Antonio Avizorone grew up in a small town in Italy. One day he came across a Jewish prayer book that was translated into Italian. He opened it up and read the first prayer, Modeh Ani, Thank You, Hashem for waking me up in the morning. He was startled. “This is how Jews start their day?” He was so moved and impressed, he decided to convert to Judaism and became Avraham Avizorone.
Parshas Ki Savo opens with the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim (the first fruits) to the Beis Hamikdash, to recognize that Hashem is the One who made the produce grow. The mitzvah of bikkurim is so critical, the Midrash Tanchuma tells us that Moshe was worried about this mitzvah the most when he foresaw the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash (Temples) and the resulting exile. This prompted him to start the practice that Jews should pray three times a day. This midrash is quite perplexing. How could it be that regarding the entire destruction of the two Batei Mikdash and exile of the whole Jewish nation, Moshe’s only concern was the inability to bring bikkurim??
I believe the midrash is teaching us the necessity for hakaras hatov—being grateful. Our survival in exile depends on this trait. Without observing the mitzvah of bikkurim, we are in jeopardy of losing our sensitivity and our focus on being grateful to Hashem and connecting with Hashem. To ensure the Jewish people would maintain its appreciation and express its thanks to Hashem, Moshe instituted the practice of davening three times a day. This was later formalized by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola to the davening we have today.
Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach was always very careful to recite birkas hamazon from a bentcher and had great concentration. One time he finished saying birkas hamazon and began saying it all over again. Why? Rav Shach responded that while he was saying the second blessing of the bentching, Nodeh Lecha, which deals with thanking Hashem—he himself lost focus. And since this paragraph is thanking the Almighty, a mindless thank you would not suffice. He had to repeat it.
During these days of Elul there is a great emphasis on tefillah. This Motzei Shabbos we start reciting Selichos to ask Hashem for forgiveness. It’s our opening attempt to connect to Hashem and perhaps be worthy to ask for what we want. I’m sure we all have many requests! But we must not lose focus on the blessings and good that Hashem showers upon us on a daily basis and thank Him for it.
A friend of mine heard a great piece of advice from his rosh yeshiva, who said to pause a moment during the Modim part of our Amidah. That paragraph is all about thanking Hashem. The rosh yeshiva said to pause before saying the word v’tovosecha, “thank You for your kindness,” and to think of a specific kindness that happened to you that day and thank Hashem for that while saying the word v’tovosecha. This idea was reinforced by another friend who told me that while he was fully observant he did not feel a real connection with Hashem until someone suggested that he write down one or two items he was grateful for at the end of each day. As he saw the list of items build over time, he felt closer and closer to Hashem.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hashem as my first/only son celebrates his bar mitzvah this week!
As we enter the beginning of the new year, let’s focus on all the good we receive, thank Hashem for it and allow ourselves to feel a real connection with Hashem. We will all be the better for it.
Last week, my wife woke me up at 1:30 am, saying “Get up quickly! Someone is knocking on the front door!” I was half asleep and tried to ignore reality. “Get up now! Somebody’s knocking on the door and I heard the phone and your cell ringing.” Sure enough, there was pounding at the door and the doorbell was ringing. At this point, we were both scared. What could be happening at 1:30 in the morning? So, I dialed the number that called my cell phone. It was the Passaic Police. “Why did you call me?” I asked. “We’re responding to a call about an attempted break-in at your house. The Police are at your front door right now!”
At that hour, my brain was still in a fog. A break-in? Here? Police? I looked out the window to see three police cars and several officers on my front porch. This wasn’t a dream. I opened the door to let the police come in. They had already checked the perimeter of the property and found nothing. Then with our permission, they did a sweep of our house. Nothing again. It seems the caller gave the wrong address – likely Crescent Place, not Crescent Ave. When they left, our hearts were still pounding. Baruch Hashem, no one broke in. Still…my wife said, “It’s Elul and Hashem sent these policemen in the middle of the night to wake us up! The shofar started blowing at shul, but we needed a greater awakening.” We recited Tehillim at our dining room table, with thanks for all of us being safe. What a night!
The shofar blasts reverberate throughout our communities every morning in Elul at the end of Shacharis. The Rambam says the reason we blow shofar is to wake us up from our slumber. We certainly got woken up at our house that night! Now, it’s time to take the message to a higher level to awaken our sleepy soul. Elul is the time to do that! Each day is precious.
From Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur is a forty-day period. The Chofetz Chaim says these days are most auspicious, since Moshe spent that amount of time in heaven writing the second luchos (tablets), which he brought down on Yom Kippur. Hashem providing the second set of luchos let us know that He accepted the repentance of the Jewish Nation regarding the sin of the golden calf and once more chose the Bnei Yisroel to be His nation by giving them the Torah.
The number forty is highly significant. The Bnei Yissaschar notes it’s the minimum volume of water required for a kosher Mikvah – 40 Se’ah (measurement of volume in the Gemara era). Each day of the 40 day period from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur corresponds to one Se’ah of the Mikvah and purifies one part of the person that became defiled. Forty days also corresponds to the development of a fetus and determines the gender of the baby. Each day is crucial. Each day is important
Rabbi Moshe Wolfson notes that in Parshas Ki Teitzei we also find the number forty in the punishment of lashes mentioned. Yet the offender, who transgressed a negative commandment, only receives thirty-nine lashes, for the sages extrapolate the verse to mean forty minus one-thirty-nine. Each of the lashes is meant to purify part of the person who was defiled. If we perfect thirty-nine areas of the person, then Hashem makes the final product, the fortieth portion, complete.
The same concept is found in Shabbos, since Shabbos is the day in which the world was completed. There are thirty-nine base melachosthat one may not do on Shabbos. The fortieth is Godly — that’s why Yom Kippur is the fortieth day of this time period. In each day of this time period the alarm sounds via the shofar, reminding us to wake up and make each day count.
Rabbi Nosson Wachtfogel (late Mashgiach of Beis Medrash Govoha) stressed that we should focus on the positive and not the negative during this time. Focusing on our faults is not useful. Rather, it’s the time period to be diligent about performance of mitzvos and Torah learning and to resolve to improve ourselves. Some people take on a little something extra. Every activity we do to better ourselves in Elul has extra power and impact.
The Shofar is blowing. Don’t require the police to be pounding on the door! Let us listen to the wake-up call! Do at least one positive action, as small as it might be, but let’s not press snooze and go back to sleep. In Elul, each day makes a difference.
Do at least one positive action, as small as it might be, but let’s not press snooze and go back to sleep. In Elul, each day makes a difference.