Parashat Ki Tavo

Abba, Renew Me

I don’t know who I was yesterday.  I don’t recognize who I was an hour ago.  I am born now.  Hi, mazal tov, a Jew has come into the world.

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 16th of Elul 5776


Our most difficult problem in all areas of life; between ourselves, between us and Hashem and between us and our surroundings is feeling old.

Do you recognize this feeling?

It is like a wrinkled elderly woman in a wheel chair; a tired old lady with a hunchback; a woman with a husky voice from age, like she’s finished.

Every place we go she comes with us.  She forces us to limp according to her pace.  She commands us according to her experience.  She already knows everything.

‘You want to work on your desire to overeat?  You make me laugh… I already know you from when you were in the crib.  You would gluttonously eat 180 grams each hour…  And yesterday you promised that you would stop eating chocolate, and after 20 minutes you broke down and finished a whole bar… and this morning with the quiche…  So, really, you want to work on overeating?  Forget about it, there’s nothing to talk about!  I know everything about you, I have documentation and a certificate…’

What do we do with this sorceress?  How do we manage against her?

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, opens with the mitzvah of the first fruits:  “It will be when you enter the Land… that you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground… and you shall put it in a basket… You shall come to whoever will be the Kohen…” (Devarim[1], Chapter 26, Verses 1-10)  Land owners in the Land of Israel are commanded to bring to the Temple the first fruits which grew on their land, and give them to the Kohen.

And what if I don’t have a field and a vineyard?  And what if I don’t live in the Land of Israel?  And what if there is no Kohen and Holy Temple to bring the first fruits to?

Even then this mitzvah is obligatory:  “The first fruits are the aspect of renewal.  Land owners need to bring their new ripened fruits, which grow anew every year… that a person needs to renew himself each time and to begin again every time… and this is what is written ‘In the beginning’[2] etc., and the Sages explained that because of the first fruits which are called ‘the first’ the world was created… that the main reason for creating the heavens and the earth was for the beginning, that is to say that a person should start anew every time, as if today is his beginning, because that is the main rectification of the worlds…” (Likutei Halachot, Yoreh Deah, Laws of Meat and Milk, 4th law)  Rebbe Natan emphasizes that renewal is not just a recommendation or a psychological tactic to trick the evil inclination; renewal is the purpose of the world.  For the ‘beginning’ the world was created!

So what does it mean to renew yourself?

To be renewed is like being born again.  From the moment that I have made teshuva[3], I am new and I don’t have any more a connection with the person who sinned or made a mistake or wounded or destroyed.  I don’t know who I was yesterday.  I don’t recognize who I was an hour ago.  I am born now.  Hi, mazal tov, a Jew has come into the world.

At the outset it’s a bit difficult to understand how this works.  It’s not really true that I was born today; I was born a long time ago.  I’ve caused a lot of damage, I see it in front of my eyes.  I ate like an elephant- you can look at my weight.  It’s not connected to the past, it is now.  I caused pain to my children- you can see it now.  They run away from me.  They’re hurt.  They’re brazen.  I’m the one who did this!  I ignored my wife.  I caused her pain.  You can see how she is annoyed and pained.  The results of my actions are here and now!  How can I feel as if I am born now and everything begins again?

With faith.  Believe in the words of the Tsaddikim who say that this is the real truth.  Hashem renews the creation every day.  There is such a thing which is called ‘teshuvah’ in the world.  From the moment that you make teshuvah, you are completely made into a new person.  It’s not you who destroyed something, it’s somebody else.  You are new here in the world, and all you need to do is to look forward to what is next.

Because when you get on the scale and see again that the hand on the scale is over the limit, and it is you who because of a lack of boundaries brought yourself to these dimensions, what could give you comfort except for a warm pastry straight to the throat, or a killer day and a half diet which ends at the bakery?  When you stand in front of your child who is hurt because of you, how can you deal with the feeling of self-guilt which eats away at you?  Where can you escape to if not to despair or aggressiveness?  What will you answer to your wife after you disappointed her for the thousandth time?

However, if you are new and fresh, born today, then you are already not in a posture of self-defense and constriction because of guilt or anger about yourself.  You have become so clean that you have eyes which see the reality and not the past, and which can examine a situation in a focused way and see what your next step is.  What do we have here?  A child who is brazen to his parents.  Come child, let’s see you, what’s your name?  Ah, nice to meet you.  I’m your father.  Do you want to tell me what you’re going through?  Ah, your father insulted you?  Oy!  That is so painful!!  Why did he do that to you?  You are such a cute kid… you don’t deserve it!

You see a hurt child, but the one who hurt him, is not you.  The one who hurt him has already been gone for a long time.  Today you are new.  Today you are even the psychologist of the child.  Do you know those psychologists?  They blame the parents for everything.  Now you can also throw everything on to the parents.  It’s the ones from a long time ago.  It’s not you.  They are not blaming you!  You can hear everything about him from yesterday who hurt your child, be angry at him together with the child, understand the child and be with him completely, and not feel guilty.  Today you are something different.

This is not just a figure of speech.  This is the most healing truth and the tremendous depth of the redemption; how every day anew, from amongst everything, in every matter, and from every downfall, you can lift up your eyes to the sky and begin again.

[1] Deuteronomy

[2] The first word of the book of Genesis

[3] repentance

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