Light the spark: How to prepare for the big trial?

  (photo credit: FLASH90)
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto’s talks are known throughout the Jewish world. They combine chassidic teachings and philosophy, along with tips for a better life. We have collected pearls from his teachings that are relevant to our daily lives. This week he comments on the Torah section of Ki Tovo.

In this week's Torah section we find the commandment of bringing the bikkurim, the first fruits that have bloomed in one’s orchard, as an offering to the Temple. Our sages taught that the commandment of bikkurim gives us the merit to dwell in the Land of Israel.

After toiling and laboring and working in his field, a Jew searches in his orchard for the first fruit that is blossoming. As soon as he sees it, he takes a string, ties it around the fruit and sanctifies it as the first fruit which his field is producing. This fruit grows and ripens with the string attached to it. When the holiday comes, the Jew harvests all his first fruits and brings them as an offering to the Temple while joyously singing praises of God.

Many have wondered about how this commandment is implemented. It commences before a fruit is fit to eat, while the fruit is still unripe and green and small. Why do we put a string on the unripe fruit and wait for it to grow? Why don't we let all the fruit bloom, grow and ripen and then dedicate the best fruit to God? Wouldn’t that be the best way to fulfill the commandment of bikkurim when we go to the Temple?

A similar question can be asked about the commandment of separating a piece from the challah dough. Every worthy Jewish woman who prepares challah, the two challahs for Shabbat, sets aside a piece of dough from the challah at the time of kneading. Why don’t we separate the piece from the challah after it is baked and suitable for eating and fit to be dedicated to God? Why do we separate the piece of dough after the kneading when it is still inedible instead of after baking?

There is a great lesson here which is fundamental to Jewish life: One should get involved in every great endeavor when it is at the beginning of the road and not at its end. You begin the challah when you knead the dough and already then you do the commandment of separating the piece from the challah. The commandment of bikkurim begins when the fruit is still unripe and green. One should do the same with every commandment and good deed. A person should not wait to join only at the end.

A similar idea exists concerning the commandment of charity: "You shall surely give to him, and your heart shall not be troubled when you give to him." (Deuteronomy 15:10) Why is the text so emphatic: "You shall surely give to him"? When a person earns money, he should accept upon himself from the first moment how much money is “mine” and how much is God's money - whether he decides to give a tenth (tithe), a fifth or accepts upon himself a commitment to give other voluntary donations.

From the first moment, he should take all the money that he has promised to donate and separate them from his earnings. This will help him internalize that this money is not his. This money is only in his possession. He is in charge of it, but it is not his, and he has to view it as being given to him for the purpose of "you shall surely give it to [the poor]." As soon as he receives the money, he should remove it from himself so when he actually gives the money to charity "his heart will not be troubled." It will not pain him because from the beginning he distanced the money from himself and knows it is not his.

This fundamental is true of many great and important commandments. At the beginning, from the very first step, a person should be firm and unwavering in his mind. This is why Rosh Chodesh is an important day of atonement. It is a special day of the month because it is the beginning and it gives direction for the month. 

Similarly, we are showing where we are headed from the earliest time when we separate the piece from the challah and put a string around the fruit at the beginning of its growth.


We are approaching the New Year, the great and sublime day of Rosh Hashanah, about which we say in the High Holiday prayers, “This day is the birth of the world.” 

We are writing the following words with trepidation: Being open-eyed about the Jewish nation - it is a nation of ups and downs, of high tides and low tides. This is true of the collective and true of individuals. As our sages say, when Jews are in the ascendancy, they soar to the top, but when Jews descend, they sink to the nadir.

We are living in times when we need God's great mercy. Our people need to be united, to be loyal to each other and to know that we have no one on whom to rely but our Father in heaven. The Jewish people at this time is in a difficult state of disunity. This situation causes great sorrow in heaven and we pray and hope that it does not bring harsh judgment upon our fellow Jews.

We have only a few days left until Rosh Hashanah to strengthen ourselves and take advantage of this special time of "my Beloved went down to His garden" (Song of Songs 6:2). In the time we have left before the Day of Judgment, let us light the spark in the Jewish heart, which has never been extinguished and will never be extinguished. This spark is the guarantee of Jewish eternity.

Let us therefore devote the days until the beginning of the New Year to getting closer to the Creator of the universe, to strengthening ourselves in the study of His holy Torah and prayer, and giving charity and doing kind deeds to our fellow man. Then we will be ready for the approaching Judgment Day and will welcome the New Year righteous and pure. 

With God’s help, may we all have a good year and be written down only for the good.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel