26 Aug 2021 Parshas Ki Savo: Hashem Hears Our Cries
This week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Savo, opens with the mitzvah of Bikkurim: The first fruits of the Shivat Ha’Minin (see Devarim 8:8), which are brought by the farmer up to the Beis Ha’Mikdash in Yerushalayim (Devarim 26:1-11). Upon bringing up his fruits, the landowner recites a beautiful and moving passage, which has become the crux of the Haggadah Shel Pesach.
Amongst the verses recited, the farmer declares words that are very familiar, as they are recited annually on leil ha’Seder:
אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי–שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב – An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there became a great, mighty, and numerous nation;
וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה – And the Egyptians did bad to us and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us;
וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל–ה’ אֱלֹקי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע ה’ אֶת–קֹלֵנוּ, וַיַּרְא אֶת–עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת–עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת–לַחֲצֵנוּ – And we cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our fathers, and Hashem heard our voice and saw our affliction, our travail, and our oppression (Devarim 26:5-7).
אֶת–עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת–עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת–לַחֲצֵנוּ – Each of these terms of affliction and oppression refers to a different maltreatment by the Egyptians to our forefathers. In Peninim on the Torah (Eleventh Series), Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum writes, “Chazal teach us that each of the above-mentioned terms refers to another form of persecution. עָנְיֵנוּ, our affliction, refers to the disruption of family life; עֲמָלֵנוּ, our travail, refers to the children being thrown into the river; and לַחֲצֵנוּ, our oppression, refers to the extreme pressure the Egyptians exerted upon us.
“If this is the case, why are the persecutions not mentioned in the previous pasuk, immediately following the phrase, וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ, And the Egyptians did bad to us and afflicted us? Why are these three terms of affliction mentioned only after we are told that Hashem listened to our pleas?
“In a homily delivered before Rosh Hashanah 1941, during the tragic and painful days that marked European Jewry’s meeting with the angel of death, the Piaszecner Rebbe zt’l, HY”D (Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, also known as the Aish Kodesh, 1889-1943), lamented and said, ‘We see now that we do not feel each pain and sorrow to the extent that we once felt, even for little irritations. If, indeed, we were now to feel all the pain inherent in a tragic situation with the sensitivity and severity which we once experienced, it would be impossible to exist for even a single day. The simple explanation for this is, as Chazal say, ‘The decayed flesh of a living person does not feel the knife.’ The only thing we feel is that our selfhood is being trampled upon; the world has turned dark and bleak; there is no day, no night, just turmoil and confusion. It seems as if the whole world weighs upon us, pressing down and crushing, to the breaking point… so that consequently, we do not feel the uniqueness of each tragedy in accordance with its true dimensions.’”
How does this relate to our passage in the parsha, and how does this explain that the pasuk says Hashem saw our affliction, travail and oppression, only after the Torah tells us that Hashem heard voice? Answers Rabbi Scheinbaum “In other words, Klal Yisrael was numb; they were numb with extreme pain. They could no longer feel each and every affliction. Hashem, however, did feel the pain. When He heard their cry, He knew fully well every single affliction which they had suffered. How important this lesson is for us. Some individuals undergo much pain and affliction. It is almost as if they have become numb to their suffering because they have suffered so much. Hashem does not forget. He feels everything and will take it all into consideration in the final analysis” (Peninim on the Torah, Eleventh Series, p.344-345).
As we read Parshas Ki Savo and end 5781, we pray that the teaching of Chazal – let the year and its curses end – come to fruition in our day and time, and that 5782 is more peaceful, calmer and healthy for all. In a world torn asunder – by the still-raging COVID pandemic and its variants, by wildfires and accursed arson fires in our beloved Land, by the Meron tragedy and the Karlin Shavuos tragedy, by the political situation in Eretz Yisrael and around the world, and the recent horrific and shocking murder of ha’bachur Shmuli Silverberg z’l, a talmid who was learning in the Denver yeshiva – we risk becoming numb to the pain, bewilderment and afflictions of exile.
The navi tells us that in the end of days: וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ, וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם; וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת–לֵב הָאֶבֶן, מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם, וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם, לֵב בָּשָׂר – And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh (Yechezkel 36:26). Rav Simcha Wasserman zt’l explains that the heart of stone is a Divine gift, enabling us to endure the pain and nisyonos of exile. It will only be in the end of days, with the ultimate redemption, that Hashem will remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh.
However, even if – in order to survive – we need a heart of stone, and at times we become numb to the waves of pain that would otherwise threaten to overtake us, the Torah teaches us that the RS”O is never immune to our tears, He is never deaf to our cries and He is never blind to our suffering. Even if we don’t feel it, He does.
May our nation and our Land merit a shana tova u’me’suka – a year that is only good and always sweet.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,