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A Timely Torah Message By Shaya Gross

Hurricane Harvey & Tefillah

This week’s Parsha begins with the Mitzva of Bikurim [bringing the first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash], followed shortly afterwards by the terrible curses that occur if we Chas V’Shalom don’t fulfill Hashem’s Mitzvos. The close proximity of the curses to Mitzvas Bikurim in the Torah begs us to ask what is the connection between them.

The Medrash gives an analogy: There was a king who saved a girl who was being beaten by robbers. He rescued her, brought her to his palace, and married her. He wanted to have a loving relationship with her, but she refused to talk to him or even thank him for all that he did for her. So the king put her back into the dangerous environment amongst the robbers and then she started crying and pleading to be saved. That was exactly what the king was waiting to hear.

Similarly, Hashem saves us from our enemies and gives us land, peace, security, and comforts. And then we forget about Him and think that our peace and security is due to our own wisdom and strengths. So in order to wake us up, He brings about painful afflictions, like pogroms, crusades, holocausts, and ‘natural’ disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and droughts.

Now we can understand the importance of the Mitzva of Bikurim. After entering Eretz Yisrael, we won our wars, settled our land with comfort and security, and are now harvesting our first crop of delicious and profitable fruit. The bringing of these first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash is our way of recognizing and admitting that all of our accomplishments are a gift from Hashem. It is our way of reminding ourselves not to fall prey to thoughts of ‘kochee viotzem yadee…,’ that it is our strength that grants us our success. Hence, when we don’t bring the Bikurim, we are are falling prey to the philosophy that ‘it is our strength that has enabled our success, and that we [chas vishalom] don’t need Hashem.’ Thus, what comes next are the terrible curses of the tochacha, that rip us away from our homeland and from our tranquility, to wake us up to remember that it’s NOT our military strength and wisdom that enables our success.

What about nowadays, when we don’t have the Beis Hamikdash and cannot bring Bikurim? How can we rectify this sin? How can we repent and show Hashem that we have realized the fallacy of these Hashkafos? The answer is Tefilah. We daven three times each day in place of the Mitzva of Bikurim, to recognize and acknowledge that all that we have is from Hashem. Yes we do our hishtadlus, but ultimately, it is our recognition that it’s all from Hashem that grants us our stability and tranquility. That is the purpose of Tefilla three times every day. Sometimes it inconveniences us in our busy work schedules, but perhaps the point is to wake us up and remind us that all our work is just a mere Hishtadlus. Although there are wicked people who are wealthy and there are righteous people who suffer, ultimately, it is this fundamental Hashkafa that will grant us serenity and true happiness.

The Avos, who established the three tefilos (shacharis, minchah, and ma’ariv) did not do so while in obvious danger or terrible times. On the contrary, they established davening during the relatively peaceful moments of their lives. This demonstrates to us that is this type of davening that is most important. When we are in trouble it’s very easy and obvious to daven, as ‘there are no atheists in a foxhole.’ The real challenge is when things are going just fine. Do we pride ourselves on our own talents, or do we have gratitude to Hashem and give credit where credit is due? As Rav Yerucham Levovitz says, ‘people think we have to daven when there is a crisis, and if there are no crises then we are okay. In truth, it’s just the opposite we have crises BECAUSE we aren’t davening properly.’

Let us all try to daven properly and sincerely, thanking Hashem when things are going well; before the next health issue comes up, before the next storm hits, before the next bomb blows up, before the next crisis occurs. In that way, we will do our share in rectifying the sin of not bringing the Bikurim [and of not keeping the Shmitah and Yovel years, which involve this same fallacy]. Instead of all the curses listed in this week’s Parsha, we will G-d willing merit all the wonderful blessings that come when we fulfill His wishes.

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