Parashat Ki Tavo begins: "And it will be, when you come to the land which G‑d is giving you". (Deut. 26:1) The Midrash states that the Hebrew word for ''and it will be", "vehaya", always denotes joy. Coming to the Land of Israel is parallel to the soul's descent to the world, referred to as a journey from "the highest zenith to lowest nadir". Because this descent is G‑d's will, it must be that the descent is not an end in and of itself and definitely not a source of anguish. Rather, the soul's arrival to this world is actually a descent for the sake of a great ascent and thereby a truly joyous occasion. One who serves G‑d out of joy will eliminate punishment for his sins…

"And you will rejoice in all the good which G‑d gives you". (Deut. 26:11) Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov explained that true joy comes from the good G‑d gives us as a result of our own labor as opposed to that which others bequeath to us at no cost. "One measure from G‑d is better than ten measures from other people."

Afterwards, we are told that we will be punished because "...You did not serve G‑d with a happy and glad heart" (Deut. 28:47). Why are there such stringent punishments as famine and destruction for actually serving G‑d, just without joy? The answer is that our happiness stimulates happiness Above which in turn cancels decrees against the Jews. Therefore, one who serves G‑d out of joy will eliminate punishment for his sins, whereas one who lacks joy is defenseless against retribution. The bottom line: don't worry, be happy! Rabbi Yechiel Meir from Gustinin said that among the curses, no specific sin is mentioned for which we are punished except one: sadness. From this we learn that sadness is the greatest sin of all.

The Alter Rebbe himself read the Torah in his synagogue. One year, he was out of town for Shabbat Ki Tavo, and someone else substituted as Torah reader. The Rebbe's son (who later became the second Lubavitcher Rebbe) was at the time under Bar Mitzvah age. When he heard the curses read by the substitute reader, he became so distraught and heart-broken, they doubted if he could fast on Yom Kippur. He was asked, "But every year you hear this portion read, what is different this year?" The boy answered, "When Father reads, you don't hear the curses."

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaCohen Kahn contrasted the intended curses of the evil Balaam to those said by Moses. Moses' curses were actually blessings. For example, "You will plant and work vineyards, and its wine you will not drink" (Deut. 28:39) may be explained as meaning that there will be no Jewish drunkards. "And you will eat...the flesh of your sons and daughters" (Deut. 28:53) can be interpreted that Jews will teach the laws of kashrut to their children and will therefore be permitted to eat from meat cooked in their kitchens.

As Elul draws to a close, so does the entire year. Let's make best use of what remains of this special time for spiritual self-evaluation. Now, we are in the final countdown to Rosh Hashanah. It is taught that each of the last 12 days of the year (Elul 18-29) correspond to the 12 months of the ending year. On each of these consecutive days, we look into our "account books", and make a reckoning to determine if we served G‑d to our maximum ability during the corresponding month, and how we need to improve in the future.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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