Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@widomaker.com

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Parshat Ekev

We have been selected against our will to be players in the game of life. Right from the very beginning, the "conspiracy" began. The first humans, created in the idyllic Garden of Eden, were expelled because they exercised their powers of free choice improperly. Life after the Garden entailed making choices for right or for wrong .

In the ten generations from Adam to Noach (Noah), mankind generally chose improperly and a new world was formed. After that time, all of mankind was required to live by a set of seven laws, the "Seven Noachide Mitzvot [Commandments]" that became and still is the basis for all human behaviour:
1. Belief in G-d 2. Do not murder
3. Do not steal
4. Do not commit adultery
5. Do not blaspheme
6. Setup a court system
7. Kill your food before eating it.

In the ten generations from Noach to Avraham (Abraham) again, the world chose improperly. The former single world-wide nation became splintered into seventy different nations and languages and dispersed around the planet. Avraham and his future offspring were "chosen" to be the examples of how to chose correctly.

After receiving the Ten Utterances (Commandments), the Torah (with its 613 Mitzvot) and after spending 40 years in the desert absorbing the Torah and its many regulations and lessons, the Children of Israel thought themselves ready. But prior to Moshe's death, just as Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) was about to enter Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), he gave three discourses of admonition to his flock, so that they might learn from mankind's history and from their own, how to LIVE successfully in Eretz Yisrael. And it is here, in his first discourse that Moshe makes known the essence of the Torah.

In chapter 10 verses 12 - 13, Moshe rephrases the nature of the Torah into just a few words:

"And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d demand of you? Only this: to revere Hashem your G-d, to go in His ways, and to love Him and to serve Hashem your G-d with all your heart and soul. To guard the commandments of Hashem and His statutes, which I enjoin upon you today, for your own good."

Two very important teachings are learnt from these verses. Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 - 1105) cites the famous Chazal (Rabbinical teaching) from the Talmud (Brachot 33) based on these verses: "All is in the hands of Heaven - except the reverence of Heaven." Mankind can only serve Hashem properly if it has reverence for Him. No matter what situation one faces one must first have a sense of reverence for Hashem in order to be able to choose correctly. Without it, one may be swayed either by the temptation of the action or by the fear of punishment (which isn't really free choice). Only a highly developed sense of reverence allows one to exercise true free will.

The second lesson, reciting 100 blessings per day, was incorporated into the Seven Mitzvot of the Rabbis (while the Rabbi's enacted thousands of ordinances within the framework of Jewish Halachah [law], only seven had the same stature as G-d given commandments. They are:
1. Lighting candles prior to Shabbat and holidays,
2. Lighting candles each night of Chanukah,
3. Reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim,
4. Giving gifts of food and charity on Purim,
5. The use of an ERUV [to carry on Shabbat, or to cook on a festival in preparation for Shabbat],
6. Reciting Hallel on Holidays and New Moons,
7. Reciting 100 blessings per day.

The Talmud (Tractate Menachot 43) records: "...every person (Jew) is obligated to recite 100 blessings per day, because it says [in the Torah] 'And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d demand of you?' " Rashi comments: "when the Torah wrote "Mah" (what - does Hashem...) read instead Me'ah (100)." In other words, instead of reading "And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d demand of you?" One should read, And now Israel, 100 does Hashem your G-d demand of you?

The S'fat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter, 1847-1905, the second Gerer Rebbe and leader of Polish Jewry) commented on this Rabbinical Commandment: "Since everything that happens to mankind, stems from a blessing from Hashem, the more one is reverent [of Hashem] and fortified [by the performance of His Mitzvot], the more one can connect to His blessings."
(The Crowns of the Torah, by A.I. Greenberg, page 72)

By making at least 100 blessings per day, we become aware of the many blessings that Hashem showers upon us. The more we are aware of how many blessings we receive, the more appreciative we become of all the good that comes our way.

This past weekend, my parents, Jacob and Helen Rosenzweig celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. Gathered around the Shabbat table we ate, we sang, and we related stories of the many blessings that Hashem has provided us. My father (who also just turned 93 years of age) told the story of how he approached a wealthy man in our community and asked him to sponsor an upcoming Kiddush (a post prayer light reception during which we bless Hashem and sanctify the Shabbat or Holiday).

The man pointed at others eating herring and asked my father why he didn't ask any of those people to sponsor the Kiddush?

My father told him that Hashem created two types of Jews. To one group He gave checkbooks, so they could write as many checks as they desired and none would ever bounce. To the other group, He provided as much herring as they desired. My father told this wealthy man that if he was unhappy with the checkbook, he could trade it in for some herring. Put in this light, the man happily agreed to provide for as many Kiddushim as were needed.

My wife Kathy, had a very difficult time before and after receiving Chemotherapy this week. In a car ride home, she said to me that she was so happy that it was she who was ill and not me or any of our children. It reminded us of the story of the grandfather of the present Belzer Rebbe, who was born with a "clubbed foot". The child's parents made an arrangement with the parents of a young girl that their children would be wed after the girl reached Bat Mitzvah. Never having met each other, they accepted their Mazel (fate) with the assurance that their parents were looking out for their best interests.

On the day of the wedding, as guests were beginning to arrive, the bride looked out her window and was shown her groom walking down the road. When she saw that he had a deformity, she refused to marry the young man. Her parents and the parents of the groom pleaded with her to no avail. The synagogue was filling quickly and still she refused to marry this cripple. When all seemed lost, the young man ask to speak to his BASHERT (fated one). He entered the room, and a few minutes later he left informing everyone that the musicians should begin playing the processional. The future Rebbe and his Rebbitzen lived for sixty years together.

At the Shiva (seven days of mourning) after her funeral, the Rebbe was asked by one of his Chassidim (disciples) what was said in the room sixty years before.

Never having spoken of the incident, the Rebbe surprised everyone when he began to explain that he had told his bride that before either of them were born, a heavenly decree proclaimed that they would be married. It also proclaimed that SHE would be born with a clubbed foot. He made an arrangement in heaven that he would suffer the clubbed foot instead of her. He told her that she didn't have to marry him, but, she would have to take her foot. When confronted with his sacrifice, she realized that what seemed like a curse was actually a blessing.

All of these stories illustrate how reverence for Hashem allows one to appreciate the many blessings that Hashem bestows. The wealthy man who felt perturbed by the fact that he was always being asked to provide for others, did so with joy when confronted with the reality of his blessings. Similarly, my wife surprised me with her statement of her joy in accepting her illness rather than HER illness afflicting one of her loved ones.

In order to see Hashem's many blessings we must bless Him so that we can literally, "count our Blessings." Every time we pray, or make a blessing before or after we eat food, or see a rainbow, or witness a beautiful landscape, we become conscious of the great gifts that He bestows upon us.

Hashem doesn't need our blessings, we do. Those whose attitude toward life is negative, are unaware of the many blessings that surround them.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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