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Expanded Borders

Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )

by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

"And you will be only on top and not on the bottom" (28:13).

You can't be on too and on the bottom at the same time. If you’re on top, you’re obviously not on the bottom, and vice versa. Why then does the Torah have to tell us that “you will be only on top and not on the bottom”?

Rav Tzaddok Hakohein of Lublin draws our attention to the prayer of Yaavetz (Divrei Hayamim I 4:10), “If You will bless me and extend my borders.” Why does he ask for both a blessing and an extension? Rav Tzaddok explains that people may be given tremendous bounty, but if they are not properly equipped to handle it, it can destroy their lives. Yaavetz asked Hashem for a blessing, but prudently, he also asked Hashem to extend his borders. He asked to become a bigger, better and wiser person, a man of deep understanding and broad horizons, a man who would be the master of his blessings.

There are classic examples in today’s society of people who receive blessings but are not equipped to handle it. We see actors become overnight sensations. They become instant multimillionaires. They buy huge mansions and expensive cars, and they take on the ultra-affluent, high-profile lifestyle of a celebrity. But they don’t know how to do it, because after all, they are only ordinary people. And so they have higher rates of divorce, drug abuse, alcoholism and mental breakdown than in any other sector of society. Their blessings turn out to be a curse.

The same holds true with athletes. A fellow can throw a ninety-five miles per hour fastball and has control of his curve ball, and all of a sudden, he’s making $10 Million a year. People are hanging on his every word.

“What did you think of this? What did you think of that?”

“Think? What does that mean?”

The guy is a millionaire, his picture is on magazines everywhere, and kids are asking him for autographs. He thinks he is someone, but he is nothing. He received a blessing, but he is not equipped to handle it.

Ordinary people win the lottery. One day they’re stuffing bags in the post office, and the next they’re multimillionaires. How are they affected? Their lives fall apart. Often, they get divorced or commit suicide. The man hasn’t changed. He is still the same insignificant postal worker. He doesn’t know how to deal with a million dollars, and so, it destroys his life.

How does one become a bigger person? The Talmud elaborates (Temurah 16a) on the prayer of Yaavetz, “If you will bless me with Torah and expand my borders with disciples.” We become bigger, expanded people by giving to others. If you give me Torah, Yaavetz prayed, give me disciples with whom to share it.

We grow by being parents. We grow by becoming community-minded individuals. We grow by helping the poor. When we give to others, we go beyond the narrow borders of our own existence. We become broader, more sensitive, people with expanded horizons.

The Talmud states (Taanis 9a), “Asser bishvil she’tis’asher. Tithe in order to become rich.” At first glance, this may seem like some sort of segulah, a charm, but it is nothing of the sort. Rav Tzaddok says that this is a logical mechanism. The more money you give away, the more people become dependent on you, the bigger you will become. The more your needs grow, the more Hashem will give you, the more your spheres of influence will expand, the bigger you will become. And so on.”

This is the nature of things. The more one makes oneself indispensable to others, the more one grows. The more one grows, the more one is capable of handling it.

Perhaps this is what the Torah meant by the double blessing of “you will be on top” and “you will not be on bottom.” Hashem will give us so much blessing that we will be “on top.” And at the same time, He will make sure that we don’t remain “on bottom,” little people with blessings too big to handle. He will help us grow and expand to receive the blessings properly.

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