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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo

Failure to Show Appreciation

3034
Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora
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Our parasha begins with the mitzva to bring bikurim (first fruit) to the Beit Hamikdash and make a declaration of thanksgiving to Hashem (Devarim 26: 5-10). Included in that declaration is a recount of Bnei Yisrael’s travails in Egypt and the subsequent exodus, a section which serves as the basis for much of the Pesach seder. An illusive phrase in that text is "vayarei’u otanu hamitzrim." The simple translation would seem to be that they did bad things to us. However, "to us" is normally written as "lanu," whereas "otanu" is usually used as a direct object, as if to say that they made us bad.

The Midrash (P’sikta Zutrata, Tavo 46a) connects our pasuk to the pasuk, "Let us be wise, lest they multiply [and it shall be if a war will occur, they will join our enemies...]" (Shemot 1:10). How does the second pasuk help us understand the first? Indeed the commentaries differ as to the possible meaning of the phrase, in light of this cryptic Midrashic statement.

The Shibalei Haleket (13th century Rome) in Seder Pesach 218 explains that the Egyptian plot to harm us was extremely conniving and evil. This is the connection between doing bad to us and being wise. Others explain (the Ramban, ad loc., may allude to it) that the Egyptians indeed made us bad, as the great pressure to which the Egyptians subjugated us robbed us of the opportunity to act based on the principles of justice and refined behavior.

The Netziv paved a new path in his commentary, which "raises the bar" as far as our expected behavior. Indeed they "made us bad" but not by making our moral standards lower, for they did not succeed in that despite our subjugation. Rather, they made us out to be bad. Recall that the pasuk that the Midrash brings deals with Egypt’s concern that the emerging Nation of Israel, who were refugees in Egypt, might betray the trust of their hosts and join their enemies in battle. Just the thought that our forefathers would have betrayed the Egyptian nation, who had welcomed them in Yosef’s time, was a terrible affront to us as a nation. After all, Bnei Yisrael were to leave Egypt as a community/nation dedicated to teaching humanity the values of morality and justice through its actions. How could they treat us as a horde of people who were incapable of showing proper appreciation for a past favor? Lack of appreciation (k’fiyut tova) is one of the lowliest characteristics, from which we as a nation must separate ourselves to the fullest extent possible.

It is appropriate that the Torah teaches the historic lesson of our nation’s dedication to showing appreciation where it does. The mitzva of bikurim and its connected declaration are a yearly practice of showing our appreciation to Hashem for the good that He bestowed upon our forefathers and us. It teaches us that we should act in such a way that no one would imagine that we would not show our appreciation to those who helped us.

Welcome (or welcome back) to the many hundreds of students at the various yeshivot and midrashot/seminries in Israel. May your studies and experiences be enjoyable, uplifting, and rewarding.

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