FRAGILE: HANDLE WITH PRAYER
Although the Passover seder is not discussed at all in Parshat Ki Tavo, we are reminded of it as we read the Torah this week.
Although the Passover seder is not discussed at all in Parshat Ki Tavo, we are reminded of it as we read the Torah this week. When a farmer of Israel would harvest his produce, he was told to bring the first fruits (bikurim) of each of seven choice species to the Temple, declaring his acknowledgment that it was not his own might or intelligence that brought him this bounty, but rather that it was a gift from Hashem. At the donation ceremony, the farmer would read a few lines from the Torah which trace our national history, beginning with the exile of our patriarch Jacob, to the exodus from Egypt and the eventual inheritance of the land which provided these fruit. These very verses serve as the synopsis of the exodus story cited in the Passover Haggadah, and there they are expounded upon.
The first two verses deal with our increasing affliction as we descend deeper into the servitude. The next two verses, which begin with the phrase, "And we cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our fathers" (Deuteronomy 26:7), deal with how Hashem redeemed us. It is truly amazing how a story which earlier in the Torah took thirty chapters, can be encapsulated in only four verses. The Torah is always economical in its word choice, and yet here we are told the very essence of the exodus - everything that is not absolutely fundamental is left out. Considering this, it seems difficult to justify the use of the phrase cited above, "the G-d of our fathers." Why wouldn't the story have been complete if the farmer would simply state "and we cried out to Hashem"?
On a simple level, one could interpret it as follows: We know that Hashem promised both Abraham and Jacob that He would deliver their descendants from Egypt. Hashem promised all three patriarchs that their descendants would inherit the land of Israel. Perhaps the Children of Israel were crying out to Hashem, relying on these promises. They didn't merely call out to Hashem; they called out to Hashem, the G-d of their fathers. They themselves might not have been worthy, but they were bringing to light these promises, and in response Hashem brought about the exodus.
Perhaps by borrowing an idea from an explanation given by the fundamental commentator Rashi earlier in the Torah, we can uncover a deeper interpretation of this phrase. When Pharaoh discovers that the Jewish people are leaving for good, he bands together an enormous army and pursues them. He finally catches up to them at the shore of the Red Sea, and the Children of Israel find themselves trapped between the enemy and the sea. In desperation, they raise they eyes heavenward and cry out in prayer to Hashem (Exodus 14:10).
Although this move might seem to have been the only logical one that they could have made, Rashi actually states that "they grasped the occupation of their forefathers." In other words, they were motivated to pray only because they knew that this is what their great forefathers involved themselves in. Rashi then proceeds to cite instances where each of the forefathers immersed himself in prayer.
Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, a Torah teacher and author of this century, compares the role of the patriarchs to that of the fathers of the telephone industry. Before the technology was discovered and before the phone lines were laid, no one could communicate with another from a distance. Now that the equipment is already in place, we can take advantage of the telephone even if we ourselves cannot reproduce it, and do not understand its technology. Similarly, before the patriarchs, Mankind was unaware of how to communicate with Hashem. Once the patriarchs made prayer their "occupation," they set up the lines of communication for all generations to come. This concept is testified to by the fact that every formalized prayer which we offer begins with the recognition that Hashem is the G-d of the forefathers.
When the Red Sea is split, and the Children of Israel cross on dry land seeing the Egyptians perish, they burst out in praise with the Song of the Sea. In it they proclaim, "This is my G-d and I will glorify Him, the G-d of my father and I will exalt Him" (Exodus 15:2). Here again Rashi interprets them to be saying, "I am not the beginning of the sanctity; rather, the sanctity and His divinity which is upon me has been continuously held upon me from the days of my fathers." Here the Jewish people recognized that the exodus and the relationship which they enjoyed with Hashem all stemmed from their forefathers, not from their own piety.
This, then, could be the meaning of the verse, "and we cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our fathers." We only knew to cry out (and were justified in doing so) because of our forefathers. They gave us the tools to effect the exodus and only through them do we have a way to connect with Hashem, whose service we joined through the exodus. Even today we utilize this connection when we come to speak with Hashem.
Rabbi Elie Cohen, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is an educator at the Columbus Torah Academy in Ohio.
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