Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Ki Tavo.

A Lesson from the ‘First-Fruits’

You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there.

Deuteronomy 26:2

It is explained in Or Hatorah that the fruit of a tree is akin to the soul as it is enclothed in the body, and that offering up the first-fruit is an act whose significance is the binding of the incarnate soul with its source in G‑d. It is written in Hosea, “I saw your fathers as the first-fruit of the fig-tree.” So too is the “father” of the soul—its heavenly source—like a first-fruit. This binding of the soul to its source has two parts: The raising of the earthbound (the offering of the fruit) and the drawing down of the heavenly (the accompanying prayer).

Thus the prayer suggests the idea of the drawing down of the holy. Jacob’s journey to Laban was a descent (from the spirituality of Beersheba to the corruption of Haran) and so too was the Israelites’ journey to Egypt. And it was these two descents which precipitated the two great acts of grace and deliverance which saved the Jewish people from destruction.

The significance of this extends to the life of every Jew. It is not enough for the Jew to rest content with his own spiritual ascent, the elevation of his soul in closeness to G‑d. He must also strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of his involvement with it—the world of his work and his social life—until not only do they not distract him from his pursuit of G‑d, but they become a full part of it. These are his first-fruits, and by dedicating them to sanctity he is fulfilling the purpose for which the world was created—to be made by man into a dwelling-place for G‑d.
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All for the Good

Cursed be the man…

Deuteronomy 27:15

In preparation for Rosh HaShanah we read the Admonition, the Tochacha , from the Torah portion of Ki Tavo. After Ki Tavo, we read Nitzavim and oftentimes Vayeilech as well, in order to put at least one portion between the Tochacha and the festival.

The reason we read Ki Tavo before Rosh HaShanah is because the Admonition is not, G‑d forbid, meant as punishment. Rather, it serves to cleanse us; before something precious is placed in a vessel, the vessel must be thoroughly cleaned.

Rosh HaShanah draws down into the world as a whole and into the Jewish people in particular, a degree of G‑dliness that is unique. It is thus necessary to first “cleanse the vessel.” This ablution, albeit temporarily painful, is — like all things that come from above — for the good.
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Walk in His Ways

You have selected the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways

Deuteronomy 26:17

On this verse, our Sages comment: “Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called compassionate; so, too, you shall be compassionate. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called merciful; so, too, you shall be merciful. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is called generous; so, too, you shall be generous.”

Maimonides develops this idea further, explaining that the reason the Torah informs about a particular Divine quality is so that we can emulate it: “For this reason, the prophets described the A-lmighty with all these different adjectives:... To make known that these are good and just paths in which a person should conduct himself to emulate Him according to his potential.”

Generally, a person expresses an emotion as a natural, spontaneous response. He sees something attractive and is roused to love. He sees something menacing and he recoils in fear.

This cannot be said about G‑d. He is by definition above having “natural reactions” to what happens here on earth. G‑d reacts in a certain way because He chooses to.

This teaches us how we should react too. Not spontaneously or naturally, but with controlled thought. Often, we become emotionally excited. This prevents us from thinking clearly and knowing which emotional attribute to exercise at a given time. Just as G‑d exercises His attributes at will and by choice, so too, we must control our feelings, rather than respond to them.
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The Importance of Gratitude

You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you. And you shall put [them] into a basket and go to the place which the Lord, your God, will choose to have His Name dwell there.

Deuteronomy 26:2

This week’s Torah reading begins with the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the first fruits which are brought as an offering to Jerusalem. Living far away from agricultural communities, it is hard for us to appreciate the sacrifice involved in this mitzvah. Think for a moment: For an entire winter and spring, a farmer has been tending to his fields and orchards, preparing his crops. Finally, in the early summer, his produce begins to ripen.

With this mitzvah, the Torah is teaching us hakaras hatov, the appreciation of the good. In appreciation for G‑d’s kindness, the farmer does more than simply offer a verbal expression of thanks. He makes a special journey to Jerusalem to show his gratitude.

This explanation enables us to appreciate why shortly after describing the mitzvah of the first fruits, the Torah mentions a covenant established between the G‑d and the Jewish people. For in a larger sense, this mitzvah relates to every aspect of our Torah observance. He grants us life, health, and well-being. And He has told us that He desires that we observe His Torah. In gratitude and appreciation, we fulfill His will.
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The Blessing Within the Curse

The Alter Rebbe would read the Torah in public. One year, he was away during the Torah reading of Ki Savo, and his young son and future successor, Rabbi Dovber, heard someone else read the portion, which includes G‑d’s severe rebuke of the Jewish people. The son became so distressed that he fainted, and weeks later it was still questionable whether he’d be able to fast on Yom Kippur. The chasidim later asked him: “In previous years you didn’t faint; what happened this year?” The boy responded, “When father reads it, I don’t hear curses:”