In the beginning of Parshat Ki Tavo we learn the details of the mitzvah of Bikkurim. After Eretz Yisrael was conquered and allocated, the farmers were to take the first ripened fruit to the Beit Hamikdash and present it to the Kohen. Included in this ritual was a declaration of gratitude to Hashem for caring for us during the trials and tribulations encountered during the Egyptian bondage. In the recital we say, among others, the following words: “The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us, and placed hard work upon us. Then we cried out to Hashem and He heard our voice, and He saw et anyeinu — our affliction — v’et amaleinu — and our toil — v’et lachatzeinu — and our oppression” (26:6-7).

This declaration is a major part of the Haggadah read at the Seder, Pesach night. Every expression is analyzed and Biblical support is offered to authenticate the interpretation. There is, however, one exception: with regard to “amaleinu” — “our toil” — (difficult labor) the Haggadah says, “This refers to our children as it said, every boy that is born you shall throw in the river.”

How is it proven from this pasuk that they toiled — worked hard?

According to the biurim — explanations — of the Rebbe on Haggadah, unlike all other instances of pesukim introduced by the words “kemah shene’emar” — “as it is said” — in the Haggadah, to prove the correctness of the interpretation, this one is not a proof to the preceding statement (that amaleinu refers to the children). It merely wants to show that there was an agonizing problem concerning their children.

From the fact that no proof is needed that “amaleinu” — “difficult labor” — means children we can learn that the Haggadah considers it obvious that to raise or educate children properly, parents or teachers must work laboriously. It is not something that just happens by osmosis, but through sweat and toil. If parents make the requisite effort, then their parenting will be crowned with success and they will be rewarded with much Yiddish nachas.

I feel it would be appropriate to say that now, as we celebrate your Bar Mitzvah, in a sense your parents are bringing their Bikkurim. For thirteen years they raised and nurtured you. They worked hard and toiled to give you the best education and to bring you “el hamakom hazeh” — to this state in life.

I notice some people in the audience who are wondering “Does the Rabbi really know this family?” Bikkurim applies to the first fruit and our Bar Mitzvah has a sister and two brothers that are his senior, so he is actually the fourth child in the family? To remove the doubts of the questioners, I will tell a little story.

A father who was seeking a chatan for his daughter approached a Rosh Yeshivah to recommend one of his students. The Rosh Yeshivah invited him to come to the Beit Midrash and point out to him the student who impresses him most. When the father picked a student the Rosh Yeshivah smilingly said, “You have a good eye; the student you selected happens to be my ben yachid — only son.”

After they met and things did not work out, the father returned asking the Rosh Yeshivah to recommend another student. Again the Rosh Yeshivah invited him to the Beit Midrash and he selected another student. The Rosh Yeshivah complimented the father on his selection saying, “You picked a wonderful boy; by the way he is my ben yachid — only son.” In amazement the father asked how can two students be your ben yachid — only son?

The Rosh Yeshivah replied with a chuckle in his eyes, “I love every student of my Yeshivah and cherish him as though he were a ben yachid — my only son.”

To every parent no matter how many children they were blessed with, each child is loved, cherished and treated as though he is their first and only. So indeed, when parents celebrate their son’s Bar Mitzvah, regardless of what number child he may be, it can rightfully be compared to bringing Bikkurim.

After one would bring Bikkurim and recite the declaration, a Heavenly voice would pronounce a blessing. “You have brought Bikkurim (first fruits) this day; you shall repeat next year” (26:11, Rashi).

My dear Bar Mitzvah, now your parents have brought Bikkurim. They are happy and proud of you and your accomplishments in Torah study and mitzvah performance. It wasn’t easy on their part. It took a lot of toil, sweet, tears and even financial difficulties to reach this milestone. I would suggest that you give them the berachah due the bringer of Bikkurim . Say to them, “Dear parents, I am immensely grateful for what you have done for me. I am happy that I was able to make you proud of me. This will not be a one-time event, but next year and in all the years to come I will endeavor to bring you happiness in the form of Yiddish and Chassidish nachas. begashmiyut u’beruchniyut — materially and spiritually.”


Before Moshe’s passing he told the people of the Berachah and the Tochechah — the Blessings and Admonishment. Moshe predicted the great benefit that will accrue to the Jewish people for fulfilling the commandments of the Torah, and, G‑d forbid, the Tochechah — Admonition — a compilation of horrors that would befall them if they spurn Hashem and the Torah.

The Tochachah in Parshat Bechukotai (Vayikra ch. 26) is uttered by Hashem telling what He would do, while this Admonition is uttered by Moshe. It is expressed in the third person, for he is saying in his own words what Hashem would, G‑d forbid, do to those who defied Him (Rashi).

To accentuate the positive, Moshe began with describing the multitude of benefits in every area of life that awaits the Jews for their loyalty to Torah.

Among other rewards, Moshe proclaims that “Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is upon you and they will fear you” (28:10).

In simple terms this means that when the nations of the world will witness the phenomenal success of the Jewish people they will ascribe it as reciprocity from Hashem for their strong association with Him and thus, “they will fear you.” Cognizant of Hashem’s power and might, and recognizing our intimate connection with Him, fear will be evoked in the minds and hearts of the enemy.

As I said, this is the simple explanation of the verse, but it isn’t so simple. The pasuk says, “And they will see the Name of Hashem upon you.” What does this have to do with the Name? And to which Name specifically is the Torah referring?

Apparently, this question bothered the Tanaic sage Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol — Rabbi Eliezer the Great — and brought him to clarify that the pasuk is referring to tefillin sheberosh — the awe-inspiring object that will instill fear in the enemies is the tefillin worn on the head (Menachot 35b).

One may rightfully still query “How does this correlate with the words, ‘They will see, the Name of Hashem’?”

Rashi explains that what Rabbi Eliezer meant is that the head tefillin, unlike the hand tefillin, is plainly visible. A shin (ש) is embossed on it, and the straps are knotted together behind the head to form the letter dalet (ד). Thus the head tefillin displays the majority of the Divine Name (ש-ד-י) Sha-dai. (The knot on the strap of the arm tefillin form the yud.)

The Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim #32) writes that the reason for a shin on the head tefillin is that the Hebrew letter shin has the numerical value of 300, and according to the alef-beit known as א‑ת, ב‑ש (in which the "א" is exchanged with the "ת" and the "ב" with the "ש" etc.), the Holy Four Lettered Name of Hashem י-ה-ו-ה numerically equals 300. (The "י" becomes a "מ", the "ה" becomes a "צ", and the "ו" becomes a "פ". Thus,
י-ה-ו-ה becomes מ-צ-פ-צ, 40 + 90 + 80 + 90 = 300).

Since the exposed shin on the sides of the tefillin of the head represents the Tetragrammaton, when “All the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of G‑d is proclaimed upon you they will fear you.”

Still unclear however, is why will seeing the majority of one of His Holy Names or even the shin that represents the full Holiest Name, the Tetragrammaton, inspire fear in Israel’s enemies?

While, I am not, G‑d forbid, questioning Rashi or the Beit Yosef, I want to share with you, my dear Bar Mitzvah an interpretation on the words of Rabbi Eliezer — “Eilu tefillin sheberosh” — based on a story the Rebbe related Yud Tes Kislev 5720 in connection with the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi founder of Chassidut Chabad and the Chabad movement.

One morning during the incarceration of the Alter Rebbe, a member of the judiciary committee, who happened to be Jewish, entered his cell. Upon seeing the Rebbe wearing his tefillin, instead of becoming upset and angry, he left the room frightened and filled with awe. Later, he returned and asked the Rebbe to explain what had happened to him.

The Rebbe told him that the Torah says, “All the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of G‑d is proclaimed over you, and they will fear you.” The Gemara (Berachot 6a) explains that this refers to ”tefillin sheberosh”“tefillin of the head. ” Thus, when people see a Jew wearing tefillin, they fear him. The officer then asked, “If that is so, why doesn’t anyone fear me when I wear tefillin?”

To this the Rebbe replied, “The words of the Gemara‘tefillin sheberosh’ — are precisely chosen. It means, ‘tefillin in the head.’ When a Jew wears tefillin, they should not be merelyal harosh’ — ‘on the head’ — while one’s thoughts are elsewhere,’ but ‘sheberosh’ — ‘in the head’ — i.e. the mind should be occupied with the significance of the tefillin. When the peoples of the world see a Jew wearing tefillin in such a manner, they revere him. Your tefillin are on your head, but not in your head.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, now you have become obligated to perform and observe all Torah commandments, Biblical and Rabbinical. But, the mitzvah popularly connected with becoming Bar Mitzvah is the donning of tefillin.

The Alter Rebbe in Tanya, ch. 41 writes a lofty interpretation as to what one should meditate before putting of tefillin, and concludes, “This is what is written in the Shulchan Aruch that [the message of hand and head tefillin] is ‘leshabeid haleiv v’hamo’ach etc.’ — ‘to make the heart and brains subservient to Him.’” In his Shulchan Aruch 25:11, the Alter Rebbe elaborates “One should therefore subjugate his soul, which abides in the brain, to the Holy One, blessed be He, and the desires and thoughts of his heart to His service. Thus, by putting on tefillin, he will remember the Creator, blessed be He, and minimize his pleasure-seeking.” When the world sees such a Jew, they revere him and fear him.

Hopefully, throughout your life, your behavior and appearance will demonstrate that the message of tefillin is in your head. It will permeate you to the extent that you will be a dugma chayah — a living example — of a true Chassid and G‑d-fearing Jew.

May you be blessed with the strength to achieve this.