Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tavo
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Yaakov Ben Behora

Parashat Ki Tavo

Extra Credit on the Test


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

20 Elul 5765
After declaring that he has followed the halachot of the ma’asrot (tithes) correctly, one would make the following statement/prayer. "Look down (hashkifa) from Your holy abode, from the heavens, and bless Your nation, Israel, and the Land that You have given to us ..." (Devarim 26:15). Rashi explains the pasuk as follows. "We have done what you told us; do for us that which is incumbent upon You." What a strange statement! Are we to congratulate ourselves on being righteous and challenge Hashem to live up to our example and do the right thing?! It is dangerous even to daven to Hashem and feel confident that since we davened so well, our tefillot will be answered (see Berachot 32b).

The answer may be found in Rashi in Bereishit (18:16) where the same root of "shakof" is used. Rashi says this the root always refers to looking at foreboding doom, except regarding our pasuk, because giving tithes changes the attribute of anger into compassion. Kli Yakar on our pasuk explains further. If a person overcomes his inclination toward cruelty and shows compassion by giving to those in need, Hashem agrees to replace expected anger with mercy.

However, it is hard to see how a Jew displays mercy by giving tithes. There are different circumstances under which one’s money goes to the needy. A person can be moved by what he sees to give with compassion. But one can also give because it is hard to avoid doing so. For example, when one pays much taxes it does not mean he is compassionate even though much of his money ends up providing for those in need. A person who follows the laws of the Torah, even when it is inconvenient and even costly, will likewise be compelled to fulfill the religious obligation of giving ma’asrot. So where is the compassion?

The answer to this problem may be found in the gemara in Ta’anit (9a). The gemara points out that it is forbidden to test Hashem to see if He will c’v’yachol keep His word, except regarding one mitzva, giving ma’aser. This idea is actually an explicit pasuk (Malachi 3:10): "Bring the ma’aser to the storage house ... and test Me in this ...if I will not open up the windows of the heavens and shower upon you a blessing without limits." We can explain according to the Kli Yakar that Hashem allows us to treat our discipline in giving to others as if we were doing it with all the warm feelings with which we ideally should. In any case, we are promised results. This allows Rashi to use the language of challenging Hashem, as this is the one case where He told us that we can be a little chutzpadic and say: "We gave ma’aser, and we are testing you to reciprocate."

The same gemara implies that this opportunity applies not only to agricultural tithes but also to giving a tenth of one’s earnings to the poor. Let us hope that we will show both the discipline and the love involved in giving tzedakah and merit the extra credit points to pass our tests and allow us to "test Hashem" as well.

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