Ki Savo – A Positive Look at Negativity

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This week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo opens with the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the ceremony of bringing the first fruits of one’s crops up to Yerushalayim to the Kohen in the Beis Hamikdash. There is an elaborate ceremony and declaration which is made by the owner of the first fruit. Included in the pronouncement he states: “And you shall call out and say before the Lord, your God, ‘An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation. And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us…” (Devarim 26:5, 6). We mention these verses in the haggada on Pesach, and there is a well-known question: why is the history of our servitude in Egypt and it’s redemption mentioned here, when the first fruits are brought to the Beis HaMikdash? What is the correlation?
Rabbeinu Bachye answers that the intent of the figure of speech for this particular portion is to charge a person to focus in his heart, at his time of loftiness and tranquility, about the time of his lowliness and the abjection he had. So too it says in Koheles, “On a day of good, be among the good, and on a day of adversity, ponder” (Koheles 7:14). Meaning, on a good day, ponder a bad day. This is to intensely focus on what you have now, and then give gratitude to Hashem, The Good, that gives good. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There are many ways in which people deal with their ancestor’s plights in history. Some people used it as a means of survival… “Never forget!” Others used the cruelty and suffering unleashed on their ancestors as an excuse for entitlement. However Rabbeinu Bachye is teaching us a lesson from the declaration by the mitzvah of bikkurim, where we mention our plight in Egypt during which we were slaves and tortured at the hands of our taskmasters; this was before we were saved by Hashem and brought into the Promise Land, and that should be an inspiration for us to appreciate what we have right now and to intensify our gratitude for His giving us such fortune as a fine crop and a means to live.

What an incredible lesson!!! Not only should we not suppress the dark parts of our history, but neither should we take advantage of them; rather we should focus on them and use them as a means to thank Hashem for the bright parts of our lives which we come to appreciate. Specifically, by focusing on our previous plights and comparing them to the good fortunate one currently has will actually intensify the gratitude which one should feel and express to Hashem, for all the good He has done.