A Jew cannot be satisfied with sitting in an ivory tower, preoccupied with personal accomplishments….

The parasha begins with the words:
"When you come to the land that the Lord your G‑d has given you as a portion, and you inherit it and settle it".

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that especially now, with Mashiach at our doorstep, a Jew cannot be satisfied with sitting in an ivory tower, preoccupied with personal accomplishments! A Jew must go out and change his or her part of the world and thereby affect the whole of Creation. The Jews completed their 40 year sojourn in the desert, where they were nurtured and protected, and then entered the Israel, where they had to take their talents and use them to transform the land. So too, with the redemption so close, we must utilize our powers for the good of others and especially for the good of the Holy Land!

This does not necessarily mean to pick up and move, but rather each of us has the power to make wherever we are into Israel, a place where more spiritual energy is felt. How are we to do this? Different people have different ways of going about dealing with an issue. Some people like to do things step by step, and some like to jump right in headfirst.

We actually see this variation concerning the first mitzvah mentioned in the parasha, to bring first fruits to the priest. The Talmud says that these are to be brought when the Jews completely "inherited and settled" Israel (Kedushin 37b); the Midrash (Sifre) disagrees, saying that the word "Vehaya", meaning, in this case, "when" means that immediately upon entering Israel the Jews were to bring first fruits grown there. Practically, we can't simultaneously fulfill both halachic opinions. Spiritually, however, we activate both opinions in our divine service.

Sometimes you have to just jump in and get started….

As soon as a Jews wakes up in the morning, he immediately recites the "Modeh Ani" prayer, saying "Thank you, living King, that You have returned my soul to me..." to show that sometimes you have to just jump in and get started. Nevertheless, the order of the day afterwards is to get up, wash hands according to Jewish law, say Morning Blessings, put on tefillin, and recite morning prayers before starting our daily work. This shows how sometimes we have to move in an orderly step-by-step way. This is the practical lesson, that our work has both dimensions: immediate and progressive. In both ways, parashat Ki Tavo is a reminder to get moving!

Over the last 2,000 years, Jewish scholars have made slightly varying lists of distinguishing the 613 commandments. Maimonides lists "And you must walk in His ways" (Deut. 26:17) as a separate mitzvah requiring us to emulate G‑d, i.e., just as G‑d is kind so must we be kind, etc. This is very interesting because none of the other general commandments such as "Be holy' or "Keep my commandments" are counted by Maimonides. What is special here? The word "walk". Commandments must be done in a way of walking.

Sometimes when a person performs a commandment, he or she is left in the same place that he or she began, i.e., no change, no elevation. The command here is the requirement to "walk", implying progression. Performing this mitzvah should cause a Jew to leave his or her previous situation and move on to a higher place.

Each of us must examine what are our personal spiritually dangerous situations and avoid them….

Close to the end of the parasha is the oft-quoted verse:
"...since you did not serve the Lord your G‑d with happiness and a good heart from it all". (Ibid. 28:47)

Rashi explains that as this verse follows a long line of curses, it refers to the Jewish people not having served G‑d while their lives were easy, resulting in their being forced to serve amidst hardship. The Ari suggests an alternate interpretation: punishment for failing to serve G‑d happily, i.e. that happiness is one of the requirements in performing the commandments. This is obviously a very tall order. Can it be that we truly deserve all of these punishments just because we did not serve G‑d with joy?!

The Rebbe of Kotzk reads the verse differently: "Since you did not serve G‑d with happiness". Not only was divine service neglected, but they neglected it happily! Any way you look at it, during this month of Elul, a word to the wise should be sufficient.

Rebbe Michael of Zlotshuv made an analogy to understand how to do teshuva (repentance) successfully: It is like a person who stumbled into a pit and was hurt; forever after, even after being healed from the injury, whenever this person would encounter an open pit, he or she would make certain to give it a wide berth. It is not enough just to do a positive action required of you; you have to also distance yourself from the place and situation that caused your downfall. Similarly, each of us must examine what are our personal spiritually dangerous situations and avoid them to the best of our ability.

Chasidut teaches that the last 12 days of Elul are connected to each of the corresponding months of the previous year, for which we are doing teshuva - returning to G‑d. These days give us an additional weapon in our arsenal to help us conquer the "route of return". So, especially now, near the 18th ("chai") of Elul - "the life-force of Elul" - when these 12 days begin, we must redouble our efforts. It is incumbent on each of us to take on new resolutions and to increase with greater strength in all the areas that we have discussed above, to fulfill our purpose given to us by the Torah, our leaders and our Jewish heritage.

May each of us be signed and sealed for a good and sweet year. Shabbat Shalom, Shaul


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