Selected Sermon/Article
2000-10-16 Ki Savo by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Birth-Ayelet HaShachar Smason
In helping us to be thankful, we need to be reminded of who it is that is the source of what we have. It once happened that a man fell off a cliff, but he had the great fortune to grab onto a branch that suspended him from another 200 foot drop below. "Is anyone there who can help me???", he cried out. The clouds parted, and a voice said, "It's me, God. I'm here to help you. Let go, and I'll catch you!!" The man thought for a minute and yelled out, "Is there anyone else out there who can help me???"

This week's Parsha begins with the mitzvah of "Bikurim": our obligation to bring the first fruits of our land (in Israel) to the temple in Jerusalem and to present them to the Cohen. When bringing these fruit, the Torah commands us to recite a paragraph which describes our history (in a nutshell). It describes how we began as a nation of slaves, constantly oppressed, and how G-d now has brought us to our land Right after this paragraph, the Torah includes a statement almost as an afterthought, which reads as follows: "And you shall rejoice from all the good that Hashem your G-d has given to you, your home, the Levite and the stranger in your midst."

In other words, the mitzvah of Bikurim, and the declaration come to help us to recognize the good which G-d has bestowed upon us.

Imagine our ancestors in Europe just 100 years ago. Imagine our great-great grandfather arriving in heaven. There he is, being judged for all of his mistakes. He turns to G-d and speaks. "G-d, I only lived 49 years. Most of my years were filled with pain and suffering. Three of my children died from either disease or pogrom. I lived in a hovel with a dirt floor. We barely survived each winter on the few turnips and potatoes we could find. I had only one or two changes of clothing, all of which were patched and worn and used for years. My family and I were constantly under the threat of persecution and death. Our Synagogue was a basement. We had no transportation, plumbing, electricity, economy, or freedom. And after all this I lived as an observant Jew. What sins can you possibly count?" Imagine if G-d responds. "You are correct. Any sin which you committed was largely a product of your terrible situation. Therefore I will give you an entirely different situation. I will give you another life. In this life you will have more money than all of the residents of your province combined. You will live in a home larger than the home of the governor of your region. You will have enough clothes to fill a room, and your closet will be large enough to walk into. You will be able to travel anywhere worldwide within one day. You will have two of your own horse-less carriages. You will have absolute freedom, and will have no persecution. You will have medical care that didn't even exist in your time. Your home will have indoor plumbing, electrical power, automatic dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators, and entertainment at the click of a button."

We usually do not stop to think of how unique our situation is in the present day. This is exactly the theme of this Parsha. We need to recognize the good that G-d gives us. But more importantly, we need to use the good that He gives us as a vehicle to greater holiness and devotion.

My wife and I had the opportunity to recognize the good that G-d gives us in a most dramatic way, with the birth of a daughter this past week. We chose her name "Ayelet Hashachar" based on a posuk (verse) in Tehillim (Psalms) 22:1, where the Psalm begins with the words 'Lamnahtzayach al ayelet hashachar, mizmor l'David' (For the Conductor; on the Ayelet Hashachar. A song of David). The commentaries offer numerous explanations for the words 'Ayelet Hashachar.' Many say this was a type of musical instrument. Others say this refers to 'the morning star.'

Meiri (a commentator to the Psalms) combines these interpretations, explaining that this very melodious instrument starts with a low, subtle sound, and slowly gathers strength and volume -- just as the light of the early dawn -- beginning with the morning star -- rises slowly until it reaches a climax with the appearance of the dazzling sun.

'Ayelet Hashachar' also refers to Ester HaMalka - Queen Esther, who represents the slow dawning of the light of redemption for Bnai Yisrael, who were engulfed in the darkness of exile. Within the next few weeks, we'll also see 'Ayelet Hashachar' mentioned in one of the slichos, as we pray that HaShem's light of forgiveness envelops us in preparation for the New Year, and Yom Kippur.

Several wise and caring friends of mine within our congregation -- in addition to my aishes chail, Chani, have encouraged me to share with you something that I would like you to know about our newborn daughter. Our little Ayelet Hashachar is a healthy baby who was born with Down's Syndrome. Please do not think that I mention this publicly because I'm aware that everyone will eventually find out. Rather, as the rabbi of your congregation, I consider each and every one of you to be members of my family -- and rather than letting this information reach you second hand, it's very important to me that I be the one who shares this detail about our daughter.

Immediately before the rise of the morning star, the night is at it's darkest, because the moon and bright stars have already begun to fade and recede. Chani and I are fully confident that with the warmth and support of our immediate and extended families, our 'morning star' will be a beacon of light, and a brocha to us that we can't even begin to imagine. Most of you know far better than I, from your personal lives, that 'Kol ma'an d'avid Rachmana, l'tov avid' - all that the Merciful One does, is for the best.

In the spirit of the mitzvah of Bikurim, where a public declaration was made acknowledging the good that G-d does for us, I'd like to express my feelings on this occasion of the birth of our little Ayelet Hashachar: she is yet another installment on an unpayable debt of gratitude that I have towards the Almighty. We've been told that we face many challenges in the years to come; but we also know that God never gives someone a test that He can't pass, and that all God does, is good.

I'm so glad that each of you are here today to share this simcha with my family and I. May HaShem grant us many years together, celebrating each other's simchas, and may we all, in the spirit of the mitzvah of Bikurim, rejoice, recognize, and proclaim, all the goodness that He's done for us.

Good Shabbos