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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo 5775

Parashat Hashavua: Hakarat Hatov The Heart of Our Religion

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha begins with the mitzva of bringing bikkurim (first fruit) to the Beit Hamikdash, along with the pronouncement of parashat bikkurim, in which we thank Hashem for the goodness He bestowed upon us – as a nation and as individuals. The p’sukim (Devarim 26:1-11), which play a central role in the Haggada of Pesach, discuss the national problems and ultimate success of the nation, culminating in the entry into and receiving of Eretz Yisrael. It also discusses the happiness the individual should feel with the fruit that has grown in his field along with the other blessings he has received.

Soon after this section, the Torah takes a sharp turn, moving to the very harsh section of the rebuke and presentation of the curses the nation could incur for sinful behavior. One of the sins is “because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with happiness and a good heart, from an abundance of all” (Devarim 28:47). Rashi explains that, having so much, it is sinful to not have hakarat hatov (appreciation for the good one receives).

Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk opened our eyes with observations on the matter of bikkurim. He points out that in this section of our parasha, Hashem’s main name appears thirteen times and that right after the Torah’s mention of the thirteen attributes of mercy (Shemot 34:6-7), the Torah commands us to bring bikkurim (ibid. 26). This indicates that the matter of forgiveness, which the thirteen attributes highlights, is connected to bikkurim, which is not only about bringing the fruits but about expressing our gratitude to Hashem at that time. Hashem’s main name is based around the idea of His mercy and kindness. This had to be included in the world in order for it to survive, as without mercy, we are too sinful to escape the wrath we deserve. In fact, that Name is repeated twice at the beginning of the thirteen attributes, and the gemara tells us that there is a special assurance that the saying of these attributes will never be without positive effect. That is tremendous kindness.

This is the reason that at this time of year (Elul and until Yom Kippur) we say “L’David, Hashem ori” (Tehillim 27) daily. The psalm begins with the Name, Hashem, which, the gemara (ibid.) explains, refers to Hashem being the same before a person sins and after he has both sinned and done repentance. In that psalm, Hashem’s Name actually appears thirteen times.

This teaches us a few things. The basis for our being worthy of Hashem’s kindness is our ability to have hakarat hatov, which is the most fundamental part of our spiritual life. There are no good attributes without that one, and no spiritual building can stand without it. Also, Hashem’s goodness is the basis for Creation, which is why the ability for us to repent existed from before the world was created. That ability must be in place before the sin, and all of this is included in Hashem’s main name. There is no repentance without recognizing Hashem’s goodness.

At this time of year, when the kindness of being able to repent gives us hope going into these upcoming High Holy Days, we should remember to thank Hashem for all the good He has and continues to give us every day and every hour.

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