As we look forward to the recitation of Slichot in preparation of Yomim Noraim, the connection between this time of year and Parshat Ki Tavo strikes me. The Ashkenazik practice is to begin the recitation of Slichot on a Motzei Shabbat, minimally 4 days before Rosh Hashana. The Mishna Berurah quotes a source for this minhag based on wording found in the Torah in conjunction with a Korban Mussaf. With every Yom Tov the Torah states, והקרבתם – And you shall offer. The wording only changes when it comes to Rosh Hashana, when it states ועשיתם – And you shall make the offering. Our Sages inform us that based on the word change found in conjunction with Rosh Hashana, the Torah demands we have to make ourselves worthy of an offering. An animal being offered as a korban must progress through a process called “bikkur mum” – where over a period of four days, the animal is consistently checked to ensure it is blemish free and can be offered. So too man, is best served examining his ways, thoughts and actions for a period of time as well to ensure he is worthy of an offering.
Parshat Ki Tavo serves as a perfect backdrop to the appreciation of Slichot. The mitzvah of bikkurim entails the bringing of the first fruits to the Kohen and expressing a deep gratitude to Hashem for the produce, for the land of Israel and for directing history and redeeming the enslaved nation from Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land. At the completion of this declaration – the farmer prostrates before Hashem – an extremely unique act tied to no other mitzvah. It is the component of hakarat hatov – of realizing the great bounty that G-d has bestowed upon us, reflecting on it and being grateful and humbled by it.
Before we can begin Slichot and engage in Teshuvah, we first need to demonstrate gratitude towards Hashem. The Vilna Gaon explains that is why in Shema, the first line has the word “kol” emphasized three times – “Vi’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha bechol levavecha uv’chol nafshecha uv’chol me’odecha. Everything emanates from Him – kol. Reciting “kol” three times helps to concretize this message within us.
The Leket Yosher explains the practice to begin Slichot on a Saturday night is based on the notion that we should go from one joy – that of Shabbos – to another – that of Slichot. The positive mood and delight of Shabbos is the ideal prerequisite for Slichot – where we realize we wish for Hashem to gain so much nachas from us. Perhaps we can add that the gratitude we feel for Eretz Yisrael, joined with the great joy we gain from the observance of Shabbos is just the appropriate lead in to Slichot, where we reawaken our profound faith in Hashem.