Numbers in [brackets] are the mitzva-count according to the Sefer HaChinuch. Other counts vary.
First Aliya – 11 p’sukim (26:1-11)
When we come to the Land and settle it, we are commanded to take of the First Fruits [the mitzva of Bikurim has already been counted in Parshat Mishpatim] of the “Seven Species”, put them in a basket and go to The Place (the Mikdash). We are to go to the Kohen on duty, announce our presence and present him with the basket.He shall take it and place it before the Mizbei’ach. We are then to recite the “Bikurim passage” .
SDT – Bikurim were placed in a basket – TENE. Numeric value = 9+50+1 = 60. Baal HaTurim points out that the recommended amount to give as Bikurim is 1/60.
SDT – It is said of Bikurim: “Do this mitzva, for in its merit you will enter the Land”. The Ari HaKadosh singles out Bikurim as the mitzva which is the “tikun” (repair) for the Sin of the Spies. Bikurim has a Torah-ordained, built-in recitation that helps us to focus our thoughts in a particular direction. With this recitation,the Jew identifies himself with his Jewish Heritage and announces to one and all the centrality of Eretz Yisrael in G-d’s plans for the People of Israel.
Bikurim is one of the mitzvot expressly to be accompanied by simcha – the joy we are to feel when (hopefully not “if”) we realize that all we have comes from G-d; the joy which we hopefully will have for all mitzvot. G-d’s admonition later in the sedra is that “we fail to serve Him with joy”.
All Land-related mitzvot are special. But Bikurim makes the statement that we are glad to be here. Being happy about the prospects of being in Eretz Yisrael grants us the “z’chut” to be here. Joyfully thanking G-d for being here helps “repair” the opposite attitude as expressed by the 10 spies and echoed by the multitude.Bikurim is a prime example of “Hakarat HaTov”, recognition and acknowledgement of the good that was done for us by G- d. This lesson too must be applied to other areas of mitzvot and life in general. May we soon be privileged to bring Bikurim with all the joy and Jewish pride that says that we are truly pleased to be chosenby G-d as His People and that we are genuinely thankful for this wonderful Land.
The first four p’sukim of the Bikurim recitation form the main text for the Pesach Seder; they summarize the Egyptian enslavement and subsequent Exodus. The fifth pasuk speaks of coming to Eretz Yisrael. This corresponds to the fifth term of redemption and is represented by the cup of Eliyahu. We all bring Bikurim (includingthe Levi and the convert) with feelings of joy and thanks to G-d for all we have.
The pasuk implies that Lavan was responsible for our going down into Egypt, yet Yaakov returned to his father’s house after the time spent with Lavan, and only many years later ended up in Mitzrayim. Commentators point out the following sequence: Lavan deceived Yaakov and gave him Leah as a wife instead of his beloved Rachel.When Yaakov subsequently married Rachel too, there developed a rivalry between the two sisters. This rivalry transferred to the next generation in the form of the problems between Yosef and his brothers. Yaakov’s giving the Striped Coat to Yosef fanned the jealousy that ultimately led to Yosef being sold into slavery.His descent into Egypt later brought the whole family down there. Therefore, Lavan IS the appropriate beginning of that process, hence the verse: ARAMI OVED AVI, VAYERED MITZRAIMA.
Second Aliya – 4 p’sukim (26:12-15)
After one has completed proper separation and distribution of T’ruma, Ma’aser, and Ma’aser Ani (during the third and sixth year of a Shmita cycle), one is required to formally declare that none of the “holy produce” remains in his possession and that it was actually given to its intended recipients . This declarationis made on the last day of Pesach in the fourth and seventh year[SDT] The declaration referred to above is known as VIDUI MAASER, literally “confession of the tithe”. The word “vidui” implies sin. Yet the statement that the individual makes seems completely free of sin. “I have removed the sacred from my home, and I have given to the Levi, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, as Youhave commanded; I have neither violated a commandment nor forgotten anything (that I was suppose to do). I have not eaten of the sacred foods improperly, nor have I defiled them in any way; I have listened to G-d’s Voice; I have done all that I was commanded.” Why would such a statement be referred to as Vidui?
HaRav Soloveichik Zt”l, suggested that the key word (twice uttered) is K’CHOL, like all, not KOL, all. The statement of Vidui Maaser declares that the person has done ALMOST all that has been required of him. Furthermore, the statement implies that the individual did only that which he was required to do, and did not (often)go beyond the call of duty. These two implications might be responsible for the appellation VIDUI.
What an important message as we approach Rosh HaShana!
It is forbidden to eat Maaser Sheni (the second tithes of years 1,2, 4,5 of a Shmita cycle, which remain the owner’s property but which must be eaten “with sanctity and ritual purity” in Jerusalem – or be redeemed) while one is a mourner  or while in a state of ritual impurity  (the person and/or the food). Itis also forbidden to use the redemption money of Ma’aser Sheni for purposes other than food and drink in Jerusalem . The literal meaning of this prohibition is not to use the money for “the dead”. This can narrowly apply to shrouds, casket, etc., but is also generalized to include all non-food uses.
We next call upon HaShem to “look down” upon His People from on high and bless us and the Land of Israel. [We have kept our promise, You keep Yours.]
Third Aliya – 4 p’sukim (26:16-19)
This short portion is a summary of our relationship with G-d. We are to keep, preserve, observe, practice all the mitzvot, statutes, laws which Moshe has reiterated for us, with all our hearts and souls. We have pledged allegiance to G-d, promised to follow His ways  and to listen to Him. He pledges to take us as His”Chosen Nation” and to elevate us above the nations of the world – IF we keep His mitzvot.
PONDER THIS… Many times in the Torah, G-d “asks” us to follow Him and keep His mitzvot. He doesn’t always threaten us; He just tells us what is the proper way for us to behave. And if we would be able to stick to our commitment by G-d’s asking alone, then we wouldn’t need the terrible threats and warnings of the Tochacha,of the second passage of the Sh’ma, and many other similar portions. Wouldn’t it be something really special if we were able to listen to G-d just because He said something, not because we face dire consequences if we don’t listen. The sadder thing is that even with the terrible threats, we stray. Think about it.
Fourth Aliya – 10 p’sukim (27:1-10)
Moshe Rabeinu and the Elders command the People concerning the inscribing on 12 pillars of stone the words of the Torah (parts thereof; the Book of D’varim or parts of it); this to be done upon crossing the Jordan. Subsequently, another set of pillars is to be erected and inscribed on Har Eval where an altar is to be built(of whole, uncut stones) and sacrifices are to be offered. Moshe and the Kohanim next declare to the People that they have grown into complete nationhood at this point, with all the mitzvot of the Torah having been reviewed. Privilege of nationhood goes hand-in-hand with the responsibilities of keeping the mitzvot.
Moshe, the kohanim and Leviim, say to all the people, “on this very day you have become G-d’s nation”. Rashi says that the Torah emphasized THIS VERY DAY, to teach us that our commitment to Torah and mitzvot should be as if we have entered into a covenant with HaShem on this very day – every single day of our lives. Weare challenged to refreshen our Judaism constantly.
Fifth Aliya – 22 p’sukim (27:11-28:6)
Moshe describes what will happen after the People enter the Land. Six tribes will stand on Mt. Grizim and six on Mt. Eval. There they will hear the blessings and curses that will be the fate of those who keep or don’t keep the Torah and mitzvot. Twelve curses are enumerated in this portion touching upon many diverse areasof Jewish life including “between Jew and G-d” as well as interpersonal mitzvot.
AMEN = 1+40+50 = 91. G-d’s Name as it is spelled: 10+5+6+10 = 26. G-d’s Name as it is pronounced: 1+4+50+10 = 65. Combined: 26 + 65 = 91. The Baal HaTurim says that “he who answers AMEN is greater than the one who says the Bracha, because AMEN is a double Name of G-d.
Once again, Moshe Rabeinu tells us that following G-d’s commandments will earn us superior status among the nations of the world. We will also be showered with blessings for hearkening to G-d’s voice. We will flourish economically and agriculturally, and be blessed with a healthy increase in population.
Blessings begin with the letter BET – BARUCH. Curses begin with the letter ALEF – ARUR. This is how some commentators explain the large BET of the opening word of the Torah – B’reishit. G-d wanted to start the Torah on a note of blessing, not the opposite. (On the other hand, the Aseret HaDibrot do begin with an Alef. Perhapsthe strict nature of the Sinai Experience needed to begin with the more sober and somber Alef.)
Sixth Aliya – 63 p’sukim (28:7-69)
Longest single Aliya of any sedra
The blessings continue with the promise of victory over our enemies. G-d will “command” His blessings upon us and the Land, and will establish us as a holy nation. This, on condition that we keep the mitzvot and follow in G-d’s ways.[The Torah’s expression “Vehalachta b’drachav” is repeated here – emulating G-d is defined as being kind, merciful, charitable, etc.]
The nations of the world will see the special relationship we have with G-d, and be appropriately reverent towards us. G-d’s heavenly treasure-house will open for us and we will flourish. G-d’s blessings are conditional upon keeping the mitzvot.
“But, if we don’t listen to G-d…” Thus begins the “Tochacha”. The admonition against disobedience of Torah. There is a custom of reading this part in a low voice because of how devastating it is to realize that G-d needs to warn us in such graphic terms, what will happen if the Jewish People do not remain faithful toHim. Unfortunately, we need these harsh words of reproach. Unfortunately, they have turned out to be prophetic more than once. The Tochacha is contained within one Aliya (resulting in the longest Aliya in the Torah) so as not to prolong the discomfort in hearing it.
The first portion of the Tochacha is the negative mirror image of the blessings previously pronounced in the Torah. The p’sukim then proliferate and describe in shocking and grisly detail that which will occur if we do not remain faithful to G-d. The final verse of the Aliya reiterates the “simple” but eloquent covenantwith G-d: Keep the Torah and all will be good, if not…
The contrast between the “good times” that Bikurim conjures up and the terrible times as described in the Tochacha is overpowering and frightening. It is the difference between contentment and respect on the one hand, and despair, devastation, and degradation on the other. Prosperity in our own Land versus poverty and exile.The key to the difference is Torah & Mitzvot. This is the message as we come closer to Rosh HaShana.
Seventh Aliya – 8 p’sukim (29:1-8)
Moshe Rabeinu calls to the People, and tells them that they now have seen (and know) all that has happened from the Exodus through the forty years of wandering until this very moment. It is incumbent upon us to keep our “deal” with G-d.
“And G-d did not give you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear, until this very day.”
22 p’sukim – Yeshayahu 60:1-22
This is the 6th of the Seven Haftarot of Consolation, all coming from the book of Yeshayahu, from chapter 40 on, where he changes mood from a prophet of tragedies to a prophet of consolation and redemption. The uplifting message of the haftara is the coming of the Geula, when G-d will restore His People to the Land andthe nations and peoples of the world will flock to Jerusalem to pay homage to G-d and His People.
Towards the end of the portion is the famous verses quoted in the introductory mishna to each chapter of Pirkei AVOT (actually it is a mishna from Sanhedrin), that indicates that all of Israel have a share in the world to come.
The concluding words of the haftara are enigmatic: “…I Am G-d, in its (the redemption) time I will hasten it.”
Will the Mashiach come in his appointed time, or sooner?
That depends upon us. If we enhance the overall conditions of Jewish Life, increase Torah observance, improve relations between Jew and his fellow, live in Eretz Yisrael in greater numbers – then we might be privileged to an “early” arrival of the Mashiach and the Geula. If we do not lay the proper groundwork for his coming,then he will come in his (pre-ordained) time.[There is a notion that things will be much smoother if we hasten the coming of Mashiach. If we are not ready at his appointed time, then rough times (wars, tragedies, etc.) will be unavoidable.]
This is a major part of our Elul challenge. We have it within our power to hasten the Mashiach. Let’s do it.
Both Sides of the Tochacha
We generally consider the Tochacha to begin with words like these: “And if you will not harken to G-d’s Voice… then… (all kinds of bad things will happen…)” From this point, throughout 54 depressing p’sukim, the Torah Reader lowers his voice as an expression of communal embarrassment, while he reads – and we hear- in very graphic form, the terrible consequences of our being unfaithful to G-d and the Torah.
Reproach in this harsh form addresses that part of us that fears G- d, fears sin, and fears punishment. Those fears are the main motivation for one’s undertaking of the path to Repentance.
But there is a flip side to the focus on the negative. 14 p’sukim earlier, we read: “And if you will listen to the Voice of G-d, your G-d, to preserve and do all of the mitzvot…, then you will have the upper hand vis-a-vis the nations of the world and all the blessings will come to you… because you listened to G-d.”You are blessed in the city; you are blessed in the field; etc. This too is TOCHACHA, reproach of a kind, directed at the Jew whose motivation for T’shuva is not just fear of punishment, but Love of G-d. T’shuva mei’Ahava comes with the feeling of wanting to do what G-d wants, and being disappointed in oneself when onestrays from the path. Not (only) fear of punishment. But genuine regret for having let G-d down (so to speak), for not showing your love of Him in all that you do.
A Tochacha filled with horrors of Divine punishment is one thing. But a discription of G-d’s promises to His people serves to reproach the one filled with Ahavat HaShem.
What motivates us to repent our sins? What puts us on the path to T’shuva? For some (and for a part in all of us) it is fear of sin and fear of punishment. But for some it is the higher form of motivation – Ahavat HaShem – love of G-d, that speaks so much more eloquently that the dreaded Tochacha.
This “positive form of reproach” does not begin with chapter 28. Right at the beginning of the sedra we find the mitzva of Bikurim. It is a perfect example of the ideal state of the Jew – mitzva- observant, in Eretz Yisrael, with a Beit HaMikdash, with bountiful yield of the land, peace, tranquility, security… and joyin who and what he is. What greater reproach can we have to shame us and challenge us in a loving way to return to G-d and be privileged to all of G-d’s promises.