This week’s Parasha opens with Moshe teaching us an important lesson through his words regarding the first fruit: "When you enter the land of Israel that Hashem gave you as an inheritance to own and dwell in it, you shall take the first fruit that the land gives you, put it in a basket and bring it to the Kohen who will lay it before the altar of Hashem and then bow down before Hashem."
Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz notes that we don't usually see this concept of bowing down to Hashem in the Torah. However, the concept of bringing the first fruits to the Kohen is meant to demonstrate Hakarat Hatov (gratitude) for all that Hashem has given us, and the “bowing” is there to emphasize the importance of humbly realizing that everything that we have, whether it be material or our intellectual achievements, are all from Hashem. We must never fail to acknowledge all the gifts that Hashem gives us, and the greater our awareness of these gifts, the more we will appreciate them! Just imagine if we were the recipients of a great medal of honor for services we performed for our country. We would treat the medal as a very precious possession! All the more so must we appreciate all that Hashem has given us, including our family, our livelihood, even our body.
The Torah then takes the concept a step further in Pasuk 11: "Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem, your God, has granted you and your household you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you.” So Hashem is saying, it’s not enough to just acknowledge and appreciate what Hashem has given us, we have to also be happy and celebrate all the good that we have. The Torah is telling us that we have to wake up every day and celebrate each new day and look forward to all the gifts that Hashem is showering upon us every minute of every day!
The Baal Haturim notes that the link between rejoicing and charity is highlighted through the juxtaposition that we find in the Pesukim that immediately follow: “When you have finished tithing all the tithes of your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give [them] to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that they can eat in your cities and be satisfied.” The Torah is teaching us that we can be sure of happiness in our lives only if we make it our business to provide for the poor and the helpless of our cities. These are all ingredients that Hashem is spelling out for us in this Parasha. To take it yet a step further, the Torah tells us (Mishle 10:2) "Tzedaka tatzil mimavet." "Charity saves a person from death."
The following story is a living example of what that statement conveys: "There was a young girl in Israel who walked into a grocery store because she was hungry and had no money for food. On top of that she was single, pregnant and very depressed because she was contemplating terminating her pregnancy. The store owner noticed the girl and helped her with food and shelter and promised that if she would have the baby he would help her financially until she got back on her feet. She agreed and eventually became close with this grocer and his family. As time passed, she was able to get a job and care for her son on her own.
About twenty years later the grocer’s son was in the Israeli army when a sniper hit him. He would have died had it not been for another soldier that managed to reach him and bring him to safety. When the injured soldier recovered and came home, he told his parents what had happened. They wanted to find the soldier who had saved their son's life and thank him personally, but he was nowhere to be found. So they decided to put up a sign up in their store to see if the heroic mystery soldier would come forward.
About a year later, a woman noticed the sign. She said that she knew of the soldier they were looking for. The store owner asked if she knew of his whereabouts. She asked, Don't you recognize me? She reminded him that she had wandered into his store, a total stranger, pregnant and hungry, over twenty years ago. It was none other than her son who had saved their son's life on the battlefield."
From this story we can see how Tzedakah and Hesed really does save us from death and its prescription from the Torah for a life of success and happiness. Let's all take the opportunity to give as much Tzedakah as possible to the less fortunate among us and show Hashem that we appreciate all that He has given us which in turn allows us to give to others. Especially at this time, as we approach Rosh Hashanah, when we'll be praying to Hashem to judge us all for good! The Tzedakah that we give should be a merit for all of us to have a healthy and prosperous New Year! Amen!
May we all be able to give Tzedakah all of our days and may we do it with much happiness. May we also realize that everything that we have is from Hashem and that if He gave it to us, its only because we were designated as agents of Hashem to distribute our Tzedakah to all the needy orphans and widows of our cities here and in Israel!
Parasha perspective By Jack E. Rahmey from the teachings and guidance of Rabbi Amram Sananes.