פרשת כי תבא
In this week’s Parsha, we are introduced to the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the bringing of the first fruits of your field to Yerushalayim, and the presenting them to the Kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash. The farmer would bring his fruit-laden baskets to the Beis Hamikdash and he would say words of praise and gratitude to Hashem.
And it wouldn’t suffice to quietly say these required words of gratitude. וענית ואמרת לפני השם אלקיך – “And you should call out before Hashem your G-d, and declare [your gratitude]” (D’varim 26:5). Chazal tell us (Rashi ibid.) that the unusual language of עניהteaches us that it was incumbent upon the farmer to call out in gratitude to Hashem in a loud and enthusiastic voice.
And the presentation of the Bikkurim didn’t end there either. That wasn’t enough. The Torah tells us that after the farmer loudly declares his gratitude, he must place the basket of fruit before the מזבח, and bow down before Hashem. והנחתו לפני השם אלקיך והשתחוית לפני השם אלקיך – “And you shall place [the basket] before Hashem your G-d, and you should prostrate yourself before Hashem your G-d” (ibid. 10). The farmer would throw himself in complete prostration on the floor in humbled gratitude before his Benefactor.
This mitzvah of Bikkurim is founded on the obligation of thanking Hashem for a successful harvest, and it is rooted in the most basic obligation of our lives – the obligation to be continuously thanking Hashem for the endless kindness that He is bestowing upon us.
The obligation to thank Hashem for the numerous benefits that He heaps upon us daily is not merely one of our many obligations in this world. It is actually the most pressing of all obligations, and the sin of ingratitude towards Hashem is actually the sin of all sins.
We are expected to be busy always, thanking Hashem for the benefits that He showers upon us, and this requires more than lip service. The genuine coin of payment for all of these benefits, is the sincere and heartfelt gratitude that is expected of you. And the mechanically recited bracha is nothing but a counterfeit coin. And we are all paying Hashem with counterfeit currency, and yet we console ourselves by believing that through this, we are fulfilling this most important obligation owed to Hashem. And it is no exaggeration to say, that thanking Hashem is the most important obligation that we are expected to fulfill all the days of our lives.
Dovid Hamelech asked: What is the good that one should seek in this world? What is the best of all careers that a young man, [even a young man of sixty], should choose as his career for his stay in this world? And Dovid Hamelech answers : טוב להודות לשם – “It is good to give thanks to the L-rd” (Tehillim 92:2).
Not that it is also good; but to give thanks to Hashem is the greatest good for a man. The career of thanking Hashem should be your career for life, and there is none better.
Our purpose in life is to give thanks and praise to Hashem. The Navi told us in the name of Hashem: עם זו יצרתי לי תהלתי יספרו – “This people I have created for Me, that they should relate My praise” (Yeshaya 43:21). Hashem created our Nation for this function of praising our Great Benefactor, by recognizing Him through the chesed He bestows upon us.
We are called the יהודים, which is derived from Yehuda, which means “he shall exalt.” And this signifies that the Jew (from the word Judah) is “the one who exalts Hashem.” With this name the Jew declares his function in this world: “This people I have created for Me, so that they should relate My praise.”
When one studies the details of the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the way the mitzvah was performed by the Am Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel for so many years, he stands in awe at the pomp and panoply of the entire ceremony. All the field owners of the local towns and villages would gather together in the closest city with their gold, silver and wicker baskets of Bikkurim, the baskets themselves adorned with other fruit and small birds, to be brought to Yerushalayim.
And when the signal was given, the large group of men, women and children would begin the procession up to Yerushalayim. And what a procession it was!
An ox, specially decorated for the occasion, with his horns plated with gold would lead the procession. There was joyous music, dancing and singing words of gratitude to Hashem as more and more people from the towns along the way joined the already large group. And upon arrival at the outskirts of Yerushalayim, the dignitaries of the city would come out to greet them and escort them into the Holy City. And as they carried their Bikkurim through the streets of Yerushalayim to the Beis Hamikdash, all the craftsmen and merchants lining the marketplaces of Yerushalayim would stand up in honor of these מביאי ביכורים.
Now, my words don’t even begin to do justice to the pomp and enthusiasm that is evident in how this mitzvah of Bikkurim was performed. But one thing is clear. It was a most enthusiastic procession, and it was planned that way so that the עם ישראל should recognize that they have no better purpose in life, no better career, than the joyous expression of gratitude to Hashem.
The joyous festivities surrounding the mitzvah of Bikkurim, were specifically attached to this mitzvah, because this mitzvah is rooted in the foundation principle of showing gratitude to הקדוש ברוך הוא.
Hashem commanded us ושמחת בכל הטוב – “And you should rejoice in all the good [that I have given you]” (ibid. 26:11), and the עם ישראל went all out in joyous celebration of this mitzvah, because there is no more important service of Hashem than the recognition of the benefits that Hashem is providing for us, and our sincere expressions of gratitude to Him for these benefits.
After many months of long hours of arduous work in the field, harvesting the various fruits and grains, we are commanded to stop our lives and take stock of our situation. The time of harvest has come to an end, and the home is filled with the produce of the field. A long winter and spring of hard work has paid off with enough food for the family to survive another year.
But before the farmer has the chance to settle down to another winter season of plowing and seeding for the next year, Hashem commands him to stop his life , and take stock of the benefits he has received. Before moving on, the farmer is expected to pause his life in order to take part in the ceremony of bringing Bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash.
Life would stop for a few weeks, so that the Nation would make sure not to lose the important opportunity to appreciate and give thanks to Hashem.
And the farmer did not merely get together with his family in the living room to speak praises of Hashem, and express gratitude for the successful year. And neither was it sufficient for the whole town to gather together in the local synagogue for prayers of thanksgiving. No, that wouldn’t be enough.
Instead, the farmer gathered his family together and began the long and joyous trek up to the Holy City of Yerushalayim.
In those glory days of our Nation, they weren’t making cross-country trips with the families to see the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. No, they trekked across the country for the real purpose in life – to say thank you to Hashem. And it wasn’t a simple trip at all. People gathered their families and had to travel for days, and sometimes weeks, in the direction of the Beis Hamikdash. And they slept in the streets and town squares at night. All for the purpose of thanking Hashem.
And everybody realized, it went into their blood, that they were alive for the purpose of thanking Hashem. And soon the farmer was being pulled along in a wave of fellow Jews, a wave that grew larger and larger each day. And they all were singing and dancing to the sweet sound of the flute, as they made their way to Yerushalayim. And for what? What was this glorious gathering for? Why all the traveling, all the time and effort, for this one mitzvah? It was all for the purpose of saying thank you to Hashem.
What?! All just to say thank you?! Yes. Because to say thank you to Hashem is the reason why you came into this world. And therefore, you must spare no effort to fulfill this purpose of thanking Hashem. And it was etched permanently into the farmer’s mind, that this is what he lived for.
In the throes of busy life, be it in the field or in the city, we often forget to take the time, and more importantly, the mental stamina, to appreciate the overwhelming benefits that are showered upon us daily. And here the Torah commands us in a mitzvah that encourages us to pause our busy lives, to stop and think, and thereby make gains in the perfection that we were created to achieve. The mitzvah of Bikkurim provided the Nation with the opportunity to make a pause – a long pause – in their lives, that was dedicated to recognition of the חסדי השם, and the joyous expressions of gratitude for these חסדים.
And we are expected to learn this lesson of Bikkurim, and do the same in our lives. Of course, the best thing would be if we would stop our lives, and dance and sing in wild enthusiasm, as the ones who brought the Bikkurim did. And if you would actually realize how many endless benefits Hashem is providing you with always, you would be dancing in delirious joy.
And actually we should be gathering our extended families together in large halls for the single purpose of saying thank you to Hashem. That’s how it should be. There should be posters hanging in every shul. A Kol Korei for the community at large. We are gathering in such and such hall for an important Asifa, an important gathering of the Jewish community. And for what? To say thank you to Hashem for everything we have.
But we’re not doing that. Nobody is even thinking about it. So we must make sure to find the opportunities in our own lives to make that same pause to thank Hashem. We must also stop our lives, and take the time to focus our minds on thanking Hashem, just as the מביאי ביכורים did.
One of the more memorable moments for the one who brought his Bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash came immediately after he placed the Bikkurim basket on the floor before the Mizbai’ach. והנחתו לפני השם אלקיך והשתחוית לפני השם אלוקיך – “And you shall place [the basket] before Hashem your G-d and you shall prostrate yourself on the ground before Hashem your G-d” (ibid. 26:10).
The word והשתחוית derives from the word שח (low), as in the verse ושח רום אנשים – “The pride of men will become low” (Yeshaiah 2:11). One “makes himself low” down to the earth in humility, before Hashem his Provider. Sensing himself overburdened with benefits, and standing before the Benefactor Himself, the farmer would throw himself on the floor in humble gratitude.
How could he stand straight before Hashem, Who is providing him with endless benefits?! And in genuine humility, the farmer would lower himself to the ground, knowing that he could do nothing to repay Hashem for the benefits except to be humbled in gratitude before Him.
And even the farmer who wasn’t aroused with these strong feelings, would also prostrate himself before his Benefactor, and by doing so awaken these latent feelings of submissive thankfulness. “I am overwhelmed by Your kindness,” he would think as his body and face lay flush with the cold floor. The bowing down before the palpable presence of הקדוש ברוך הוא was an awesome thrill that stayed with this man forever.
We look back in longing at our fathers who were zoche to such an opportunity. But in our own lives, we have our own opportunity for this greatness as well. Only that we don’t realize it, and we therefore remain bereft of this opportunity for greatness.
Every day, when you bow down during מודים you are reenacting that great moment of והשתחוית. As you bow down, you should be aware of Who you are bowing down to. Instead of the reflexive jerk forward of your body as you say מודים אנחנו לך, you should say these words, at least these words, slowly.
You’re not a robot that is preprogrammed from birth to bow at the sight of the words מודים אנחנו לך in your siddur. You’ve been bowing down for so many years, that it’s just a reflexive action on your part. Some people wouldn’t even know that they had said the words of Modim if they hadn’t been startled awake as their heads jerk forward. But you’ll have to change that if you want to be a success.
You have to actually feel like you’re bowing down in front of Hashem. As you bow down slowly, you should imagine that Hashem is right before you. You’re actually bowing down to Him in gratitude, just like the farmer bowed down to Hashem, and tangibly experienced the Presence of Hashem. Even though you’re not carrying a basket of Bikkurim, and even without the Beis Hamikdash, you’re still bowing down to the same Hashem, Who is standing before you just as He stood before the farmer.
And the best way to use Modim is to prepare beforehand. Make it your business to choose one thing to thank Hashem for by each מודים. Thank Hashem for the fact that you have food in the house. You were able to eat breakfast this morning, no? Eating breakfast is a pleasure. You’re not bowing down to Hashem with an empty stomach. Even by Shachris, you’re still full from last night’s supper.
So when you bow down, think “I’m thanking you Hashem for the bowl of Cheerios.” “I’m thanking You Hashem for last night’s supper.” Thank Hashem for your wife or your husband. Boruch Hashem, you found a shidduch.
So decide for yourself, “Today by Modim, I’m going to thank Hashem for giving me my wife so many years ago.” There are so many things to thank for. Bow down slowly – there’s no rush – and thank Hashem that you woke up without a headache today. That when you went to the bathroom in the morning everything worked. I know that you said אשר יצרalready, but this time you’ll bow down in sincere gratitude. It’s a pleasure to be able to relieve yourself without needing doctors to use a tube to help you out. Now that’s something to say Modim about!
We had a man here in the shul who suffered terribly from this. He couldn’t relieve himself, and finally they had to take him to the hospital to help him. And the doctors had to use a tube and vaseline to get the urine out of his body. And it hurt. It hurt like the dickens. He was screaming. Screaming from pain. And yet, when they finished emptying his bladder, he was so happy to have finally relieved himself. And you?! For you it’s so simple, so painless. You could bend over by Modim and never straighten up, and it wouldn’t be enough bowing just for that.
Did you ever bow down in Modim in thanks for your children? Never?! Well, you’re going to have to start sometime. And not one Modim for all your children! One Modim during Shachris for this child, and another Modim during Mincha for the next child. And at Ma’ariv you will bow down for the next one. And when you finish getting through all your children, you can start again.
You slept in a home last night? You didn’t have to find a park bench to sleep on?! You’re a lucky man. You’re not sleeping on some bench, with all your belongings next to you in a shopping cart. You’re a wealthy man!
There are numerous details that you should be thanking Hashem for. I’m only telling you a few things to think about, as examples. תן לחכם ויחכם עוד.
And if you forgot to plan ahead, all hope is not lost. You can stop after המחזיר שכינתו לציוןand collect your thoughts. You know that מודים is a new ברכה of its own. It’s not a part of the previous ברכה. So stop for a few moments, like the מביאי ביכורים did, and prepare yourself to thank Hashem. Think of a חסד right there, before Modim, and bow down to Hashem in gratitude for that חסד. Try it one time. Don’t simply bow down. Bow down before Hashem. You’ll be changed man.
You have to thank Hashem for the details in your life. You can’t just say a general Modim and think that you freed yourself from your obligation. A thank you without any thoughts, without any details is worthless. It’s a blank check that you’re writing to Hashem, and it’s almost worthless.
And Modim is not your only opportunity to be reminded to stop and give gratitude to Hashem. All of you here are Orthodox Jews. And you’re saying brachos all day long. Some of you are even careful to say ברוך אתה השם a hundred times a day. A hundred times!
Saying ברוך a hundred times a day, should make you into a new person every day. Every day you should be growing greater and greater. And it should bother you if you’re standing in the same place you were standing last Elul. So why isn’t it working? What are you doing wrong?
The word ברוך (blessed) derives from the word ברך, knee. When you say the word ברוךyou are figuratively bending your knees in gratitude and humility before your Benefactor. One who recognizes his Benefactor and the multitude of kindnesses he is receiving, stands before his Benefactor, bent over by the weight of this gratitude. We say every day, a few times, כי לך תכרע כל ברך – “To You, all knees are bent.” We should be bending our knees in gratitude all day long.
And therefore, every ברוך is an opportunity, a reminder, to feel sincere gratitude in your heart. השם יראה ללבב – Hashem is looking into your mind. He’s not looking at your knees.
And therefore, every time you make a bracha, every time you say ברוך, you should think about what you’re saying. And the more you think about the details for which you are thanking Hashem, the more that you say the word ברוך with knees bent in sincere gratitude before Hashem, the more you’re actualizing the lessons of ביכורים and making yourself great.
But this important principle of הכרת הטוב, the gratitude that we are expected to express to Hashem for the benefits we receive, should be an important focus of our lives for a different reason as well. If you would be aware of the consequences to the one who does not hasten to appreciate the kindnesses that Hashem bestows on you, then you would realize how vital this עבודה is. And we learn this lesson from a different part of our parsha.
In this week’s parsha we are told by Hashem of the many troubles and travails that will befall our Nation. And although there are many reasons why Hashem might deem it necessary to bring troubles upon us, the only one that He deems important enough to mention specifically is the following: תחת אשר לא עבדת את השם אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרוב כל – “[And all this will befall you] because you did not serve Hashem your G-d, with joy and with a merry heart, out of an abundance of everything” (ibid. 28:47).
Now the word תחת actually implies something more than “because.” Translated properly, תחת means “instead of.” And therefore the פסוק actually reads as follows: [And all this will befall you] instead of you serving Hashem…in joy and with a merry heart.”
Instead of the opportunity that was given to you by Hashem to serve Him in joy and happy occasions, now Hashem will bring you troubles and travails. What does that mean, “instead of”? Hashem tells us here that the choice is ours: We can choose to serve Hashem with a joyful and merry heart, in appreciation of an abundance of everything; but if we choose not to, then all of the travails outlined in the תוכחה will befall us, and תחת, instead of enjoying the רוב כל, all pleasures of life, we will be forced to suffer under the burden of חוסר כל, lack of all good things. It’s not a punishment. It’s just either-or.
Let me explain. The purpose of all the good, of all the kindness, that Hashem is constantly bestowing upon us, is for the sole purpose of affording the recipients, that’s you and I, the opportunity to become tangibly aware of Him at all times.
The endless benefits are intended as reminders of the One bestowing the benefits. And this awareness is not merely a מידת חסידות, a special act of piety for the pious man. It’s the reason for our stay in this world. Our purpose in this world is solely to become aware of our Creator. And how are we supposed to achieve this purpose? By thanking Hashem!
When you take the time to appreciate the endless kindnesses that He is bestowing upon you, and you thank Him, that’s the accomplishment of life. That is the awareness that Hashem is demanding of you. Hashem is calling out to you, “Look at what I’m giving you all day long. Think about me. Thank me.” And if you are a wise man, a man who wants to succeed in his purpose in life, you’ll do just that. You’ll call out to Him in joyous gratitude.
And the more you call out in gratitude to Hashem, the more aware of Hashem you will become. You’ll begin to see Hashem, to actually see Him, all day long, in all the benefits He is gifting to you. Every sincere thank you to Hashem, is another degree of awareness, another degree of perfection in the eyes of Hashem. And there are infinite degrees of this awareness that man can achieve during his life.
All of the endless benefits that Hashem bestows upon us while we are still in this world, are for the sole purpose of prodding us to become more and more aware of Him, before it becomes time for us to say goodbye to this world of chesed. In the cemetery, it will be too late to say thank you. And it is this awareness of the Bestower, through the gifts that He is bestowing upon us, that is the achievement of perfection for which we are created.
Now you’re learning why you’re enjoying walking all day long. And eating all day long. And breathing. And seeing. It’s all for one purpose only. So that you’ll have the opportunity to thank Hashem and become aware of Him. You thought that Hashem gave you the gift of feet because you need to walk to get around. And that He gave you eyes because you need to see to survive in this world. And you breathe because Hashem has to give you oxygen to oxygenate your cells. You figured these are all just functions provided to you so that you can make it in this world.
No, that’s a fatal error. Hashem gave you all these gifts so that you should be able to make it in the Next World. The sole reason why Hashem is providing you with these benefits, is to give you the opportunity to become aware of Him. The sole reason why you enjoy a slice of bread and a drink of water; why you enjoy your ability to use your eyes and move around without a wheelchair; why you enjoy a soft breeze and a clear blue sky; and the thousands of other kindnesses you enjoy every single day, is so that you will come to recognize and appreciate your Creator.
The sole purpose of why you’re alive right now, and the sole purpose of the numerous and varied benefits you enjoy, is to bring you to awareness of Hashem. The more you say thank you, the more you bow down in gratitude, the more you stop in the middle of the day for a few seconds to think and to thank, the more you appreciate the details of all the simple pleasures of your life, you are becoming more aware of Hashem, and the more perfect you are becoming.
However, many of us are unaware of the purpose of this world. Hashem is providing you with רוב כל, an abundance of good times, in order to get your attention, but you’re too busy with life to notice Hashem. He wants to give you the opportunity to gain the perfection of awareness of Him, because only that is the true perfection.
But alas, when you go through life, benefiting all day long from the gifts of Hashem, and you don’t use these gifts for their true and ultimate purpose, then you are failing in your purpose in life. But Hashem won’t allow you to fail. And therefore, He will prod you towards awareness of Him in other ways.
Instead of becoming aware of Hashem through calling out to Him in happiness and joy, it will now be the troubles that you face, that will prod you to awareness of Him. Instead of calling out to Him in happiness, you will be calling out to Him for help. But you will be calling out to Him, one way or the other.
And therefore, by not dedicating your life to thanking Hashem, not only are you failing in your purpose in this world, but you are accepting upon yourself the other side of the coin of תחת אשר לא עבדת את השם אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב. “Instead of serving Hashem your G-d in joy and with a merry heart out of an abundance of everything,” Hashem will have to bring you to this all important awareness of Him, with the help of a different method – the method of תחת.
And therefore, the one who fails to live a life of awareness of Hashem, through gratitude, will be have to turn to Him when troubles befall him, and call out to Him for His help, to save him from his troubles. And that man, will now become aware of Hashem through עירום וחוסר כל instead of the awareness he could have achieved through רוב כל.
When a man wakes up in the morning with a headache, a terrible headache that impedes all of his plans for the day, he is being prodded into recognition of הקדוש ברוך הוא. For days and days, for years upon years, this man woke up every morning free of all pain. But he never said Modim to Hashem. He never bent his knees in humble gratitude before Hashem for the gift. Hashem waits. And waits. But He won’t wait forever.
And then the morning comes when Hashem says תחת אשר לא עבדת את השם אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב – “Instead of giving you the opportunity to serve Me in happiness and gratitude, the happiness of no migraines, the happiness of being able to pass your bowels בשלום, the happiness of being able to walk without pain, now I will have to bring you to recognition of Me בערום ובחוסר כל.”
And so, the following morning you wake up with a splitting headache. And in desperation you call out to Hashem for His help. Or when you go to the bathroom and you see blood in your stool, the next davening, you’re saying the bracha of רפאינו with more כוונה, more of a sincere heart than anyone else in the shul. Trust me, Hashem knows how to get your attention. He knows exactly how to get you to call out to Him.
And this calling out to Him is the awareness of Hashem that you were created for. You chose to achieve awareness thorough רפאינו instead of through מודים. And Hashem looks down in His mercy and says, “Why did you wait so long? Why couldn’t you have just called out to me in gratitude during מודים and then you wouldn’t have to call out to me in pain during רפאינו?”
And not only will you come to awareness of Hashem in calling out to him for His help, but you will also arrive at that recognition of the חסדי השם that Hashem was waiting for. Your headaches are so painful and the doctor is sending you to a specialist. You’re worried about the test results that will determine why there’s blood in your stool. You’re waiting for the virus to finally pass. And you’re looking back at the good old days before Hashem deprived you of these benefits. And now you begin to perceive what you once possessed. Not only do you achieve awareness through your need to call out to Hashem, but the thinking man will achieve this greatness that Hashem wants from him, in another way as well.
Now, when you are חוסר כל, when you are suffering from the stomach virus or the headache or whatever it may be, you think back to the good old days, when all was well. And then you begin to understand the genuine joy of the abundance of everything that Hashem had formerly given to you.
The man with the stomach virus looks back with כליון עיניים, with great longing, to the days when he didn’t need to be close to a bathroom all day long. A man who is suffering from migraine headaches, looks back with longing at the days of old, when he would wake up without pain. And he is awakened to call out to the only One who can bring back those days of old.
The older man, who can’t sleep anymore, remembers fondly the nights of old when he was able to peacefully drift off to sleep. It was so much fun to be able to fall asleep. And now, with a little bit of thought, he can look back and achieve even more awareness of Hashem. The man who can’t move around because of an infection on his foot, only now begins to appreciate the simple joy of walking.
Hashem tried to give you good times, he tried to wake you up, but you weren’t willing to bite the bait. All of these good times were supposed to lead to the awareness of Hashem and His overwhelming chesed. That was the intended purpose. And now, these men who for years ignored the opportunity to recognize Hashem בשמחה ובטוב לב, will come to this recognition of Hashem מחוסר כל.
Here’s a man who is bothered by a small speck of dust that was blown into his eye. That bothersome speck of dust is no mere accident. It’s not the wind, and it’s not the dust. It’s Hashem calling out to you. I’ve given you healthy eyes day after day, for years. And I gave you these eyes because I’m trying to make you aware of Me. But there’s nothing doing.
Oh yes, you say the bracha of פוקח עוורים every morning. And even if you know the פירוש המילות. But it’s just words. It’s not genuine. It’s something, but it’s a failure. But that little speck of dust in your eye, with which you’re struggling, is much more difficult to ignore than healthy eyes. And so, the one who doesn’t appreciate and give thanks for his healthy eyes, will be reminded one way or another.
For so many years you had a stable job. And one day, like a thunderbolt out of nowhere, your boss is telling you that they have to let you go. It’s downsizing. It’s the company tightening the belt. It’s this, it’s that. No! It’s Hashem. Hashem is calling out to you.
And you’re complaining. “Why me, why do I have to suffer so?!” And in these few פסוקיםHashem is answering your doubts. Did you ever take a minute to appreciate that you have a job and to thank your real Boss for your job? Do you realize what a חסד השם it is to have a decent job? Is it so hard to spend a few seconds, as you walk into your place of work, to say, “Thank you Hashem for giving me a way to bring home some money at the end of the week. Thank you Hashem. I love You.” But you don’t do it. You don’t realize how big of a gift Hashem is giving you. Not until Hashem sends you that difficult reminder of how big a gift it really was.
Thank Hashem for your job. Even if your boss is a tough man. And even if the pay is not what you hoped for. Thank Hashem, because that’s why you’re alive. Thank Hashem for your שלום בית. So you have a flare-up here and there. It happens. Still, thank Hashem for your spouse every day, so that you shouldn’t need any other reminders. Thank Hashem for your children, and for your Rebbi, for your good neighbor, for your home, for your Shul, for the food in the fridge. And don’t stop thanking Hashem.
The lesson of the importance of thanking Hashem all day long, is the secret that is revealed to us in the פסוק of תחת. And therefore every person must internalize the warning that is inherent in the words of this פסוק. Hashem is telling you that He presents before you two paths to reach the same goal. One way or another, you will come to the awareness of Hashem. Now, why would a person choose the route of עירום וחוסר כלinstead of שמחה וטוב לבב? Why would you choose the suffering of a sickness over a healthy body and a long life?
And therefore the lessons of the פסוקים of Bikkurim should be used by each and every one of us to guide us in choosing the route of awareness of Hashem through happiness and gratitude instead of the second route of תחת אשר לא עבדת.
And this lesson of תחת is even more important for us as we prepare for the יום הדין. A year ago we were also standing on the threshold of a new year, and we didn’t know what our גזר דין would be מי יחיה ומי ימות, מי ישלו ומי יתיסר – “Who will live and who will die, who will enjoy tranquility, and who will suffer.” What the coming year had in store for us was a safek, a real doubt. And now it’s a year later and you’re still here. You made it. If you’re here, then you made it.
And now, everyone is preparing to ask for another year. But you missed the whole point. You’ve missed the point completely. Hashem gave you another year of life. And not just life, but a year of happiness. The complainers will always find what to complain about, no question about it. But it was a year of thousands and thousands of individual happinesses.
Do you know how many meals you ate this year? How many drinks of water? Do you realize how many steps you took this year? How many times your elbows bent without any pain? How many times did you cross the street and make it to the other side alive? Was there even one time that you woke up this year without the ability to see? Three hundred and sixty five nights of sleep! All of you slept this year. Nobody here was doing too many all-night mishmars. You all slept well. Did you ever take a few minutes to thank the רבונו של עולם for all those sweet hours of sleep? So many nights, and each night at least few hours!
Here you are worrying about making resolutions for the coming year, and worrying about your sins from last year, and that’s all well and good. It’s wonderful! But you’re forgetting about the biggest sin of all – the sin of ungratefulness. Remembering all the good that Hashem has showered upon you during this past year, is the first and most important preparation of all.
So make sure to take advantage of these last few days of the year. Make sure to spend at least five minutes a day thinking about the details of Hashem’s kindness of this past year. Think about the whole year. It was so many days. So many things to thank for.
You have to thank Hashem for the big things and the small things. “Thank you Hashem for marrying off one of my children for me. I love you for that. And thank you so much Hashem that they’re still married.” “Thank you Hashem for helping me pay my bills.” Thank Hashem for all the meals you ate, and the steps you took, and the breaths you took. Thank Hashem that your child graduated. Thank Hashem for your new baby. Thank Hashem for your old baby. Your new chavrusa. Your old chavrusa.
Now, five minutes a day is not enough, but if I asked you for more, then you surely would ignore me. If I tell you to give Hashem five minutes, maybe you’ll do one. And don’t say that you’re too busy. You have plenty of time. Everybody has the time to talk about the plane crash and the hurricane. Everyone has the time to talk about the cover story of an Orthodox magazine. I walk in the street and I hear people talking about much worse things. The Yanks and the Mets and every other form of foolishness. You have time to thank Hashem, no question about it!
And if after sitting here, listening to me for an hour and a half, you go out and thank Hashem for five minutes for the good of the past year, then you should know that you’re an exception. You’re a דגול מרבבה. You’re a head taller than everyone else, and there’s nobody like you.
So there are two paths that lie before you. The two paths of coming to awareness of Hashem in the פסוק of תחת are available to you, and you will have to make that choice. And don’t wait too long, because the Day of Hashem’s Judgement is coming. If you don’t choose to serve Hashem מרוב כל, then Hashem will not wait forever. And then you’ll have to serve Hashem מחוסר כל. So learn from the those who brought the Bikkurim, and start thanking Hashem.
And if you start thanking now, and you keep it up, then you’ve made that choice to serve Hashem בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרוב כל, to serve Him in happiness and with a merry heart for all of the good He has bestowed upon you. And then Hashem will continue to give you רוב כלso that you can continue to walk on the path you’ve chosen of עבדת את השם אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב for another year.
Have a Wonderful Shabbos!