Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
1. This Shabbat has a special status as it comes before Tisha B'Av. It is known as Shabbat Hazon (Shabbat of Vision) since this week's haftarah begins with the words "Hazon Yishayahu" -- the vision of Isaiah (regarding destruction of the First Temple). Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev said that on this Shabbat we need to have a vision of complete redemption. It is precisely within the destruction that we must imagine the building of a perfect world.
2. This week we begin the book of Deuteronomy (Devarim), the last of the five books of the Pentateuch (Chumash). This book is composed entirely of the farewell speech of Moshe Rabbeinu to the nation. His parting words may be viewed as the last will and testament of our greatest leader.
3. This past Wednesday we observed Rosh Chodesh Av, the beginning of the month of Av. It is said that "When Av enters, joy decreases." Our commentators say that Av (אב) is an abbreviation for אלול בא (Elul is coming). Next month is indeed Elul, a month of Teshuvah and self-rectification. The word av also means father and hints to the fact that we all have the same Father and are all brothers and sisters. Until the fast of Tisha B'Av arrives, many mourning customs -- associated with the destruction of the two Holy Temples and the interruption of our sovereignty over the Land of Israel -- are observed.
4. Our sages throughout the generations have cautioned us regarding the importance of these days. We should not take them lightly or only look forward to their passing, but look inside ourselves to see how we can improve not only our own lives, but the life of the nation as a whole.