Category Archives: Ki Tavo

Head, not Tail (Ki Tavo)

Head, not Tail (Ki Tavo)

Think like a man of action, and act like a man of thought. -Henri Bergson

Moses blesses the Nation of Israel with detailed, flowing, prophetic blessings that includes the following verse:

“And you shall be for a head and not for a tail, and you shall be up and not be down.” – Deuteronomy 28:13

The Berdichever calls our attention to the extraneousness of the phrases “not for a tail” and “not be down.” If you’ll be a “head,” it would seem obvious that you won’t be a “tail.” Likewise, if you’re “up,” you won’t be “down.” So why the redundancy?

The Berdichever explains that there is a deeper meaning to the repetitiousness of “head” versus “not tail” and “up” versus “not down.” It has to do with the three different worlds that we inhabit: the world of thought, the world of speech and the world of action.

The world of action is the most physical, the one we perceive with our senses, the one we interact with most. We are present in the world of action. We act on people and things and they likewise act upon us.

The world of speech is a bit more sublime. There may not be strict physical interaction, but speech is the medium whereby we convey our needs, desires and ideas to one another.

The world of thought is the most sublime of all. It is dominated by our internal thoughts, ideas, musings. It is our internal dialogue, our mental landscape, and it is only limited by our imagination.

According to Kabbalah, the “lowest” of all worlds is the world of action. The world of action is the furthest away from our true essence, from our spiritual reality. “Above” the world of action is the world of speech. Speech does start to capture the uniqueness of being an articulate human spirit, but it is often a clumsy tool, not always able to encapsulate or convey our true thoughts and feelings. The highest world is the world of thought. Our unadulterated thoughts have the closest contact with our spiritual selves.

The Berdichever details that the “head” of the world of action is equivalent to the “tail” of the world of speech. Similarly, the “head” of the world of speech is the same as the “tail” of the world of thought. However, there is nothing “above” the “head” of the world of thought.

Hence, the blessing is that we should be a “head”, the very “head” of the world of thought, with nothing “above” us. That is when we are closest to infinity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Israeli democracy.

Give, Serve, Joyously (Ki Tavo)

Give, Serve, Joyously (Ki Tavo)

Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile. -Pierre Coneille

At the beginning of his commentary on this week’s Torah reading, Rabbeinu Bechaye enjoins us to adhere to charitable commandments with an unshakeable belief that God will pay us back, manifold, in this world. We have an obligation to be charitable with our money, but also with our time and our personal talents. God has given each of us some unique trait, strength, talent, something we’re good at or that we enjoy doing. We must make charitable use of those divinely granted gifts for the benefit and well-being of others.

However, this belief that God will “pay us back” in this world may seem counterintuitive to other areas of Jewish faith. God doesn’t typically bargain or make deals. There are commands. You follow them, you get rewarded; you don’t, you get punished. However, reward or punishment is or may be delayed until the afterlife, which may prove either unsatisfactory or a relief to those of us still very much in this world.

But there seems to be a major exception to the above. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 26:15 (Ki Tavo) brings our attention to the Temple’s first fruit ceremony. In the prescribed liturgy of that rite we call upon God to gaze down upon us, see that we’ve fulfilled our part of the bargain of bringing the first fruits to the Temple, and now it’s God’s turn to bless us, in this world.

In all other cases where the Torah uses the term of God “gazing down,” it’s not good. It’s usually because God, in His attribute of Justice, is “examining” the deeds in question (think Sodom) and getting ready to severely punish the wrongdoers.

But there is a particular power to performing the commandments with joy, and specifically the charitable ones, which gives us the ability to convert God’s attribute of Justice to the attribute of Mercy. We can have the temerity to call on God to gaze down, examine this particularly good deed, performed with joy, and reward us accordingly or even disproportionately.

He adds (on Deuteronomy 28:47) that the command to perform God’s commands joyously is its own separate unique command. Therefore, whoever performs a commandment, but doesn’t do so joyously, while he may have performed a command and gets credit for it, violates the separate all-encompassing commandment to do so joyously and in fact has also sinned.

The bottom line is, be charitable, give of yourself, your time and your resources joyously and feel free to then call upon God to pay up. At least in that department, He’s ready to make a deal.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Cheyn Shmuel Shmidman on his Bar-Mitzvah celebration and his unbelievably impressive reading of the entire scroll of Isaiah.

 

The Art of Charity

The Art of Charity

Charity should begin at home, but should not stay there. -Phillips Brooks

The Torah introduced to the world the charitable concept of tithe (Maaser), of giving one tenth of our income to the needy. However, the Torah is particularly sophisticated and nuanced as to how, when, what, to who, and how much charity we are to give.

In analyzing the Torah’s charity directions we need to take into account that it was presented to an agricultural society (which has defined humanity for the last several millennia). Every tenth animal from the flock was given as charity. Besides ten percent of the produce that was collected, any produce that was dropped, forgotten or left behind became the property of the poor (within well-defined parameters). A corner of one’s field was left for the poor to harvest. Much of the agricultural gifts weren’t so much handouts as much as an opportunity for the poor to gather and earn food for their families, while doing work and keeping some semblance of honor.

Within the concept of tithe itself, there are actually three different types: Maaser Rishon (first tithe) given to the Levites, Maaser Sheni (second tithe) taken by the farmer himself (or traded for money for food) together with his family and consumed festively in Jerusalem, and Maaser Ani (the poor’s tithe) given to the poor.

Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 26:15 explains the significance of these three types of tithes. Maaser Rishon, the first tithe, was given to the Levites, for they were the ones charged with the education of the people of Israel. They were responsible for transmitting the Torah, its moral and spiritual precepts to the people. That is the foundation of our nation. Maaser Sheni, the second tithe, was eaten and enjoyed by the farmer’s family in a state of purity within the walls of Jerusalem. One of the underlying concepts is the care we need to take of our own physical selves, our families and the moral purity of our actions in this physical world. The third tithe, that of Maaser Ani, for the poor, is the basic and simple responsibility we have to those less fortunate than us. We cannot see our brethren go hungry. We have the obligation to ease their distress as we are able to. No success is complete without looking out for the weaker ones of our communities.

Then and only then, after we have fulfilled these three different dimensions of charity, that of looking out for our nation’s educational needs, that of looking out for the physical and moral welfare of our own families and that of looking out for the weaker members of our people, then can we call out to God as the passage concludes and declare: “God, I’ve done what You’ve asked. Look down from Your Holy abode, from the Heavens, and bless Your people, Israel, and the land You have given us.”

May our ability and capacity to help our families, our communities and our needy never falter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the myriads of people affected by Hurricane Harvey. May we be able to help them, each according to our own capacity and may they recover quickly and return to the safety and comfort of their own homes and institutions.

The Labor of Prayer

The Labor of Prayer

Whatever is your best time in the day, give that to communion with God. -Hudson Taylor

man-concentratingThere is a biblical command to give our first fruits to God. We till the earth. We plant seeds. We water. We clear the weeds. We watch them grow. We protect them. We pray for rain and the right weather. We invest all our time and effort to see the grain and fruit grow. And then, after significant investment, the first fruits grow and blossom. They are ripe. They are ready to be sold and eaten.

But then God says: “Hold on – not so fast. You need to give that very first fruit to Me. Bring the fruit to My Temple in Jerusalem and give it to the priests, my representatives on Earth.”

This commandment, amongst so many others, reminds us that everything is from God and thanks to God. When we pay Him homage (literally), we confirm and reaffirm that fundamental truth.

The Sfat Emet in 5631 (1871) states that our first hour of the day is like our first fruits. We must dedicate that time and give that time to God in prayer. We acknowledge that all our efforts, all our resources would amount to nothing without God’s active support. By consecrating our first hour of the day to the spiritual work of prayer, we ensure a greater likelihood that God will remain with us the rest of the day.

May we have and retain the capacity to pray earnestly and witness the resulting blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Emergency Response Team of the Jewish Community of Uruguay. It’s great doing drills together and I pray we never have to use what we practice.

Respect the Silence

 

 Men are respectable only as they respect. -Ralph Waldo Emerson 

silenceI’ve noticed that the volume in a room is often in direct proportion to the comfort the people in the room feel. Parties can be unbearably loud. Cemeteries are appropriately quiet. However, there are multiple occasions where quiet is both expected and given. Official assemblies of all sorts will have their moments of quiet.

Synagogue prayer is a conundrum. On one hand, we want participants to be happy and comfortable. For many it is a great opportunity to catch up with friends, to relax and chat. However, we are also supposed to be there to pray to God.

Jewish law is unequivocal about talking during prayer – it is forbidden, besides being rude, insensitive, ego-centric and disturbing. Our sages went so far as to institute a special prayer bestowing great blessings upon those who are careful not to speak in the synagogue.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 26:19 takes things a step further. He explains that when one is focused on his prayer, it is as if he is constructing a crown made out of prayers which is then placed, as it were, upon God’s head. However, subsequently, in some spiritual, mystical sense, that crown then returns to the prayerful person. However, those who instead of respecting the prayerful quiet choose instead to talk during the services, instead of receiving a divine crown, they will be punished. The punishment, states the Baal Haturim, is that they will receive thorns all over their body.

May chatter in the synagogue be diminished and may we be spared from any punishments.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the participants in the Maimonides Shabbaton. Thank you for a great Shabbaton and for quiet and meaningful prayers.

Cosmetic Beauty

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ki-tavo-cosmetic-beauty/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Ki Tavo

Cosmetic Beauty

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” -Kahlil Gibran

In the Western, Greek-inspired world youth has become synonymous with beauty. To look younger is to be beautiful. To that end, it has become growingly popular to alter ones appearance, even via surgery, to achieve the elusive façade of eternal youth.

Judaism has an opposite view regarding youth and beauty. Old age and hard-earned wrinkles are to be venerated. Outward beauty is often false, deceptive. The beauty of the soul is paramount.

In this week’s Torah reading instructions are provided as to the construction of the altar: only whole stones can be used. The Netziv on Deuteronomy 27:6 explains that the stones for the altar cannot be cut into more convenient or pleasing shapes. The natural stone must be used as is, without alterations or cosmetic surgery. The right stones need to be found and need to be used together with whatever blemishes or imperfections they have, without smoothing them, without cutting them. They are perfect and pleasing and wanted as they were created, in order to build the altar to God.

May we be comfortable with our own superficial blemishes and work instead on our inner beauty.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the five beautiful couples that married this week in one unforgettable night. May the beauty you find in each other only grow over time.

 

Secret Sins

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ki-tavo-secret-sins/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Ki Tavo

Secret Sins

“The secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, profane, clean, obscene, grave, and light, without shame or blame.” -Thomas Hobbes

There is a special place in Jewish theology for the secret sinner. He is cursed like few others are cursed. Moses commands the people of Israel to perform an unusual ceremony once they cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

Half the tribes of Israel are to stand on one mountain and half on the opposite mountain as they scream at each other curses into the air. The selection and content of the curses is unusual. For example: Cursed is the one who makes a secret idol. Cursed is the one who hits his parents. Cursed is the one who is intimate with a relative. Cursed is the one who confuses the blind on the road. (See the full list in Deuteronomy 27:15-26).

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 27:14 explains that the common denominator between all the curses is that they are cursing those who perform sins in secret. One may be a respected, righteous figure on the outside and none know of the secret sin, (not that it’s better to start sinning publicly!) – but this saintly figure starts living a dual existence. A monstrous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the secret sin eroding and poisoning the persona from the inside.

Only by breaking free of the secret sin can a person hope to be whole again.

Good luck to all of us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all of us contemplating repentance of our sins, whether secret or less so. We are all invited to synagogue for the High Holidays.

Soul Hijackers

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Ki Tavo

Soul Hijackers

Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure. -Thomas Alva Edison

There is comfort in the status quo. You may not always like it, but it is predictable, it is safe. Change requires risk. There is danger. The results may even be worse than what you’ve become accustomed to.

[The rest of this Torah Insight is at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/soul-hijackers/]

The Ultimate Blessing

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Ki Tavo

The Ultimate Blessing

This week’s Torah portion gives a long list of curses as well as blessings. The curses are frightening. They are so horrible that the tradition is to read them in a hushed tone in the synagogue. The blessings on the other hand are wonderful. We could only wish for them to all come true. Blessings of wealth and success. Of children and peace. Of power and dominion. Of honor, recognition and admiration from the ends of the earth.

The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 28:8) however is not satisfied with these blessings. He claims that these blessings are just an appetizer. The true blessing, the ultimate blessing, is something completely different.

The problem with the listed blessings, he feels, is that they are finite. Anything that can be counted is limited. It will come to an end. The highest blessing can only be bestowed on something infinite. All else pales in comparison to a never-ending blessing. Such a blessing can only attach itself to something that will never run out, that can never be taken away – something intrinsic to each individual.

The Kli Yakar claims that the ultimate blessing can only be absorbed by the soul. The infinite human divine soul is able to achieve the ultimate blessing. That blessing is a connection with God. The development of fear of God, of awe of God, of love of God, creates a new reality deep within us. The striving for an ever growing God-consciousness pervades our souls for eternity. That is a blessing that is forever.

In this period before the High Holidays, the month of ‘return’, may we develop this ultimate blessing for ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To God. We probably don’t acknowledge Him as much as we should. According to tradition, He is more approachable these days. Let’s do lunch with Him or something.

 

The Shlemiel Seeks the Nameless One

Deuteronomy Fiction: Ki Tavo

The Shlemiel Seeks the Nameless One

The central square of Bet Lehem was filled to capacity on the early summer morning. Muted browns of farmer’s garments and animals were flecked with explosions of purples, greens and reds from the spring harvest. The sight of so many Temple pilgrims walking to Jerusalem frightened Nahum. The noise was overwhelming. The braying of dozens of animals and the even louder discussions of hundreds of pilgrims set Nahum’s teeth on edge.

Nahum was accustomed to the quiet of his father’s farm in the south. Though man-size, in his eighteen years Nahum had never gotten used to crowds. Donkeys, bulls, horses, goats, sheep and even some camels were penned on the western side of the plaza. With animals he was comfortable; with people less so.

Nahum was accompanied by his uncle, his cousins, his second cousins and most able-bodied members of his Simeon clan. They were all descendents of the notorious Shlemiel, though they did not discuss it publicly. Nahum’s father, the leader of their clan, rode on horseback. Nahum walked close enough to his father to be called upon, but not close enough for conversation. Hundreds of Judeans and Simeons prepared in Bet Lehem for the half-day journey to Jerusalem. To Solomon’s Temple.

“Nahum,” a young brown-haired woman waved at him as he approached the main well. Nahum tripped over a pebble at her unexpected gesture. He regained his balance, almost knocking over a wicker basket brimming with grapes. What’s her name? Nahum thought. I don’t remember her name.

“Hello,” Nahum murmured and looked at his feet.

“It is good to see you again,” the young woman said. “You’ve grown since the last time we met. You’ve just arrived?”

“Yes.” Nahum spoke into his semi-clenched fist.

“We’re about to leave,” the woman said, gesturing at a caravan leaving for Jerusalem, “but I would like to see you again.”

Nahum’s eyes shone and he glanced at the young woman for a moment. Talia? Is that her name? A tight smile spread over his face. “That would be nice,” he said.

“Meet me at noon at the southeast corner outside the Temple,” she smiled. “Don’t be late.”

The young woman joined the procession of farmers heading north to Jerusalem.

“Who was that pretty girl?” asked Eldad, Nahum’s uncle, from behind.

“She’s a girl I know that I keep meeting on our pilgrimages. I think she’s Judean, from Tekoa.”

“What’s her name?”

“I don’t remember. I never asked.”

“Nahum! You’re truly a descendent of Shlemiel. How can you not ask her name? How are you going to find her or find out about her?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t think about it.”

“You’re hopeless.”

“I’ll find her. We agreed on a meeting place.”

“Where?” Eldad asked.

“The southeast corner outside the Temple.”

“That’s good.”

“Why?”

“Because only serious couples meet there.”

“What does that mean?”

“Men and women meet there for serious discussions. The north side is for the frolickers.”

“How do you know all this?” Nahum asked, eyes widening.

“Some matters,” Eldad coughed into his hand, “are better left unsaid. In any case, you’ve been sheltered too long and now you’re of marriageable age. You must consider your prospects wisely.”

“Isn’t that for father to decide?”

“Typically. But if you bring forward a suitable girl that you like, then everyone is better off. Anyway, stop standing around like a buffoon and start watering the animals. The day’s not getting any younger and the crowd’s not getting any thinner.”

Nahum obediently watered their clan’s half dozen animals: two donkeys, the stallion that his father rode, a goat, a young lamb and a large bull. He lined them up facing northward out of Bet Lehem.

The road to Jerusalem was congested. Caravans of clans from all over Judea and Simeon traveled northward. Nahum started to sweat as people walked closer to him. He was thankful that at least everyone was traveling in the same direction. It would have been impossible to move if anyone had tried to travel south.

The convoy of pilgrims moved at an easy pace. The elderly rode on donkeys or rickety carts. Richly dressed pilgrims rode horses. Children ran around the slow-moving procession snatching grapes from the open baskets and throwing ripe figs at each other. The more talented children were rewarded with a satisfying ‘splat’ with fig seeds oozing down their friends’ faces. Parents yelled at them for abusing the First fruits.

Nahum tried to figure out the girl’s name. Mali? Did I hear someone call her that? Maybe it was Elia? How am I going to call her? How can I ask what her name is after all this time? What did Uncle mean about meeting on the northern side? That sounds like it could be fun.

The long line of pilgrims oscillated up and down the Judean hills. On either side of the dusty road were green vineyards surrounded by rows of stout olive trees.

Nahum spotted the Temple in the distance. The rising sun glinted off the tall structure. Other roads joined the one from Bet Lehem. The road grew wider and the crowd thicker and louder. Nahum and his clan approached the walls of Jerusalem. Someone started a merry tune on a flute. A large bull at the front of the Simeon procession marched proudly. His horns were covered with a layer of beaten gold, and a wreath of olive branches adorned his head. The pilgrims organized the fruit displays, stacking the figs into neat pyramids in their baskets and laying out the grapes on large wicker trays.

Colorfully dressed merchants and townsfolk lined the outer wall of Jerusalem.

“Our brothers from Simeon,” they chanted. “Come in peace.”

Nahum and his family entered the wide gates of Jerusalem. They passed the large palace of Solomon on their right. The royal residence was three stories high made of stone and cedar. Elaborate porches hung from the sides of the palace with long purple-flowered morning-glory vines covering the face of the wall. On the other side of the street was a row of stores selling spices, ground flour, and dried fruits. Further up the road was the smithy of a blacksmith next to the stall of a scribe. The dark towering blacksmith was an odd counterpoint to the small pale scribe. Past the palace were smaller yet elegant homes. Up the road was the majestic structure of the Temple shining in the sun.

The congestion on the Jerusalem road was almost impenetrable.

“When do you need to meet the girl?” Eldad shouted at Nahum.

“At noon.”

“You’re not going to make it.”

“But I can see the corner of the Temple. It is just a short distance away.”

“Nahum, it will take you as long to get from here to there as it took us to get from Bet Lehem to Jerusalem. Unless you can fly over the heads of all these pilgrims. And you would also need to take leave of your father – he may not agree.” They both looked at his father.

“I can’t be late. She told me.”

“Move quickly.”

Nahum turned his head to either side. A river of people extended from the gate of Jerusalem until the entrance to the Temple. Thousands of pilgrims were on a road normally traveled by dozens of people at a time. He noticed Israelites from all the tribes. Benjaminites from north of Jerusalem with their swords on their right side. Asherites from the Galilee carrying large vessels with their distinctive oil. Even Gadites from across the Jordan with their long braided hair. They all bore their fruit offerings. He was surprised to see Egyptians in their white cotton robes and even Phoenician sailors in their short leather tunics.

Nahum did not enjoy the confluence of tribes and visitors. He felt his heart palpitating as the crowd pressed in. They moved forward an inch at a time. At this rate he would never find her. Yael? Yafa? What was her name? If I only knew her name I could get a message to her. Nahum looked up at his father riding above the crowd. He moved up to his horse and tugged lightly on his father’s robe.

“What is the matter, Nahum?”

“Father, I must go ahead.”

“What for?”

“I need to meet someone at the corner of the Temple at noon.”

His father looked at the crowd, at the sun, and at the distance. “You will not make it. Who are you meeting? Why have you not told me of this before?”

“I’m meeting a young woman. We arranged it in Bet Lehem.”

“I see. Who is she? What is her name? Which side are you meeting on?”

“She is a girl I’ve met before on our pilgrimages. I think she is a Judean from Tekoa. I’m not sure of her name. We’re meeting on the southeastern side. Please father, I don’t want to lose her.”

“You don’t know her name?” his father looked at him in surprise. After a moment he nodded lightly. “Very well, Nahum. Go with my blessing. Good luck. Meet us by the east side of the Temple entrance when you’re done.”

Nahum attempted to force his way through the crowd. The harder he pushed, the greater the resistance. He thought he would faint from all the bodies pressing against him.

This is no good! I can’t move and I can’t see what’s ahead.

Nahum started jumping in place. With each jump he got a glance of the movement ahead. Pockets of space. Wagons moving slowly. Animals braying among the pilgrims. Merchants offering their wares to the ongoing traffic.

Space formed around him. People moved away from the strange jumping man. Nahum jumped and moved forward. Pilgrims made way for Nahum.

If I can keep this up I might make it.

A wagon stood in front of Nahum. He slipped on fig as he landed behind the wagon. He fell on his stomach and stared at empty space under the wagon. Nahum shimmied on his elbows and knees under the wagon. He continued to crawl under the legs of the horse in front, careful not to knock the hooves. The horse brayed at the sudden interloper but decided to ignore Nahum.

This is fantastic! I’m making great time crawling underneath. Dina? Bracha? I’m coming.

Nahum crawled under four more wagons, a trio of horses and a pair of camels. He ignored the dirt, feces and squashed fruit his garment accumulated. He knew he had made a mistake when he tried to squeeze under a cow. Its udder was low. The cow wailed mournfully as Nahum pushed his way underneath. As Nahum’s back rubbed against the udder, Nahum felt warm milk soaking his already soiled clothing. Nahum held his breath until he escaped the confines of the cow and breathed the fresh air of masses of merely smelly feet around his head.

Nahum glimpsed a promising wagon a few feet away, when a shepherd dog barked madly at Nahum’s intrusion of his airspace. Nahum scrambled away from the dog and turned towards the storefronts. Remains of grapes and raisins fell off Nahum’s garment. The dog was close on Nahum’s heels. The crowd parted for the reeking man and mad dog. Nahum climbed up the side of one of the stores and found himself on a low roof. The shepherd dog continued to bark and then gave up and joined the river of pilgrims.

Nahum could see the city clearly. He was halfway to the Temple. The road approached the Temple from the western side. A large sundial stood on the plaza of the western corner outside the Temple. A few minutes to noon. Nahum walked along the roof of the store and saw it was a short jump to the next roof. He ran along jumping from one rooftop to another.

Rina. Devorah. Whatever your name is. Here I come.

The stores suddenly ended. Nahum climbed down and faced a wall of people. They were all that stood between him and his girl on the eastern side. The wall they formed was thick and strong. From a few feet away he could see that any time there was an open space, it was quickly filled with a body trying to enter the Temple gates. Nahum noticed the fresh garments and bathed skins of the pilgrims. All had made use of the ritual baths and were wearing their best holiday clothes. Nahum was shamed to even approach them in his grimy state. He had dried fig seeds on his hands.

The sundial showed two minutes to noon. Nahum, shaking like olive leaves in the wind, approached the crowd. Lo and behold, the crowd parted. Like Moses at the Sea of Reeds a wall of pilgrims formed to his right and to his left. No one wanted to be touched by Nahum. Nahum kept walking. Movement into the Temple came to a standstill. Those closest to the entrance wanted to ensure they did not come in contact with Nahum. They turned their backs to the Temple entrance until Nahum safely passed. Those to the right of Nahum formed an impenetrable wall holding back the sea of pilgrims from washing over him.

Nahum made it to the other side. There were dozens of couples talking earnestly in front of the southeast corner of the Temple. The girl from the well was standing wide eyed, staring at Nahum as he approached.

“I made it.” Nahum looked at his scratched legs.

“You’re filthy,” the young woman exclaimed.

“I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that there was such a crowd, and I didn’t think I would make it, and I didn’t know if I would find you, and I didn’t remember your name, and then there was this cow and then a dog and then the crowd again…”

“Shush. I know. I saw the whole thing from here. It was incredible. I can’t believe someone would do that to see me.”

Nahum’s cheeks turned the color of pomegranate. “Well, you told me not to be late.”

“I did. But you’re a mess now. Go to the ritual baths, bring your First offerings with your family and then we can meet again afterwards. I’ll be waiting here for you.”

“Great. I’ll go now. But I’ll be back,” Nahum mumbled. “One other thing. I… what…”

“My name is yours, silly,” the girl smiled.

“What do you mean?”

“My name is Nehama. I am the daughter of Zuriel, a clan leader in Judea, from the city of Tekoa. Hurry now, it won’t do for a perspective bridegroom to walk around so dirty.”

“Nehama,” Nahum said in a trance. “Nehama. That’s who I’ve been looking for.”

“Go on, Nahum we don’t have all day.”

Nahum turned around and walked back towards the crowd. He tripped on a pebble, fell on his knees, and picked himself right up again.

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and dost possess it, and dwell therein; that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there. And thou shalt come unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him: ‘I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the land which the Lord swore unto our fathers to give us.’ And the priest shall take the basket out of thy hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God.” Deuteronomy 26:1-4

Secondary Sources:

Tractate Bikkurim Chapter 3. Provides details as to the organization and annual procession of those bringing the First fruits offering.

Names:

Shlemiel or more fully “Shlumiel” was the name of a prince of the tribe of Simeon. The sages are disparaging of him as they identify him as none other than Zimri who sinned by having relations with Kozbi and who were then summarily executed by Pinhas. In classical Yiddish, Shlemiel is a klutz, an unlucky clumsy person. A great quote differentiating between a Shlemiel and a Shlemazl: “A shlemiel is somebody who often spills his soup; a shlemazl is the person the soup lands on.”

Nahum and Nehama are male and female versions of “consolation” or “comforting”