Parshat Ki-Tavo: Know Yourself

Straus-Amiel shlichim Rabbi Avinoam and Hadas Czitron are the community rabbinic couple and head of the Bet Midrash of Yavneh College, London

CzitronIn our parsha, the mitzvot of first fruits are described. We are told that when we settle in the Promised Land and are privileged to grow and harvest fruit, we are obligated to take the first fruits, place them in a basket, and bring them to Jerusalem.

The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), founder of the Hasidic movement, explains: when a new desire or good intention awakens within us; when a new fruit of hope and aspiration is born, it is forbidden to allow it to remain only in our thoughts. Rather, we must take it, place it in the basket of reality and carefully examine it. We need to provide it with practical tools to bring it into the world of action.

This is our work, as we approach the New Year in the month of Elul: to know how to take hold of our beautiful dreams, to examine them in every detail, and to plan step by step how to make them come true.

The crux of the Selihot prayer, which we recite before Rosh Hashana, is the “Yag Middot” – the “thirteen attributes” of divine mercy. As we beg to Hashem for forgiveness in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, we appeal to these attributes, which reflect God’s kindness and compassion, and His willingness to forgive us for our wrongdoing.

One of these attributes is “Notzer Chesed La’alafim” – literally, “keeps kindness for thousands.” This phrase has been explained to refer to the Talmud’s comment (Shabbat 32a) that when a person is judged, even if 999 angels prosecute against him, and a single angel advocates on his behalf, he is saved from a harsh sentence because of that one angel. The Gemara then cites Rabbi Elazar Ben Rabbi Yossi as adding that even if 999/1000th of that one angel is inclined to prosecute against the individual being judged, and just one-thousandth of that angel seeks to defend him, the person is saved. It emerges, then, that even if a person has only one-thousandth of one one-thousandth to his credit, he can earn a favorable judgment.

It has been suggested that this is the meaning of “Notzer Chesed La’alafim” – God is so merciful that He extends kindness and grace to “Alafim” – those who have only one-thousandth of one thousand angels advocating on his behalf.

As much as we are required to examine ourselves and repent during this period of the High Holidays, identifying our faults and flaws and working to correct them, we also need to give ourselves some credit. There can hardly be a person who does not have at least “one-thousandth of one one-thousandth” of goodness on his record. We all have much to put right, but we all also have much to be proud of. And God, in His infinite compassion, is prepared to focus His attention on that “one-thousandth of one one-thousandth” and judge us favorably.

The question then becomes, how do we sign up for the “Alafim Program”? How do we access this extraordinary resource, and earn a favorable judgment based on the merits and goodness which we have to our credit?

The answer is found in the Gemara’s comment later in Masechet Shabbat (127), that whoever judges his fellow favorably is himself judged favorably. If we give other people the benefit of the doubt and judge their actions in a favorable light, then God will, in turn, judge us in a favorable light.

This is the key to the “Alafim Program.” We need to focus our attention on the “one-thousandth of one one-thousandth” of goodness found in other people. Rather than following our natural tendency to judge people harshly and highlight their negative qualities, we must do the opposite – focus our attention on all that is good about the people around us and the second thing is that if we have a good thought to put it into practice.

If we make these efforts, then God will, in turn, direct His attention, as it were, to the considerable amount of goodness which we have to our credit. Inscribe and seal us for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue (BES) is one of the fastest-growing and most vibrant Jewish communities in the UK, and the center of Jewish life in Borehamwood. Within the community, there is a wide range of activities held on the synagogue complex each week, including daily and weekly services, educational programmes for adults and youth, and events specifically for the youngest members of BES.


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