Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
1. This week's Torah portion is Ki Tavo. It is a continuation of the farewell speech of Moshe Rabbeinu to the nation.
2. The Torah portion begins with the mitzvah of first fruits: A farmer takes special notice of the first figs and other fruits that have ripened in his orchard, picks them, puts them in a basket, and takes them on a journey of thanksgiving to Jerusalem. This is an important lesson in gratitude, which has been integrated into the magnificent story of the Jewish people. Our material success depends on God and we acknowledge our gratitude to Him by bringing our first fruits to His Holy Temple, to be eaten by His emissaries, the Kohanim. It is also a lesson in elevating the "firsts" in every aspect of our lives which, for the Ba'al Shem Tov, included the first thoughts, words, and actions of each day.
3. This parasha is also known as Parashat Hatochacha (rebuke). Our commentators single out the significance of the following passage: "And all these curses will come upon you and pursue you... because you did not serve the Lord with joy and with gladness of heart when everything was abundant." In other words, we will not be punished only because of something we did not do, but rather because even while serving God we lacked joy and gladness.
4. After reading this Torah portion, we read the haftarah. We are still in the midst of the seven Shabbatot of consolation that follow Tisha B'Av. This week's words of consolation from the prophet Isaiah describe the great light that will illuminate us when we are settled in our land: "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has shone upon you... and nations shall go by Your light . . . Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither robbery nor destruction within your borders, and you shall call your walls salvation and your gates praise."
5. On Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) Ashkenazim will join Sephardim in Selichot prayers which the Sephardim began reciting at the beginning of the month of Elul. The cries to God for divine forgiveness, already heard among large crowds, will only increase in the days ahead.