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PARSHAT RE'AYSHABBAT ROSH CHODESH
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26-16:17
Haftorah - Isaiah 54:11-55:5
I have used monetary examples but both Bracha and K'lallah have similar effects on all aspects of life. Now to our Parsha.
Moshe Rabbaynu (our teacher) continues his second address to Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel) on how to successfully exist in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel). This week's Parsha begins with the words:
"Re'ay - See (pay attention), I am presenting before you today a Brachah (blessing) and a K'lallah (curse). The blessing: that you will hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem..." (Devarim 11:26- 28).Moshe then goes on to say that when Am Yisrael eventually enters Eretz Yisrael, they should be split into two groups, six tribes should stand on the summit of Mt. Gerizim and the other six tribes on the summit of Mt. Ebal. The Kohanim (priests), the elders of the tribe of Levi, and the Holy Ark, should be placed in the valley between the two mountains. The Levi'im (Levites) will then read a list of blessings and curses (enumerated in chapter 27:11-69) to which the people will answer Amen to each statement.
For those of you who only recently began following this Parsha sheet, I repeat a thought that I wrote a few months ago, about the concept of reward and punishment. While Hashem definitely intervenes and bestows both rewards and punishments for our actions, much of what we call reward and punishment is but the outcome of our own behavior. For instance, is the smoker who contracts lung cancer being punished, or does he create his own negative reality? Or, is one who keeps himself physically fit by proper exercise and eating habits, rewarded with good health, or, does one create one's own positive reality?
Let's get back to our Parsha.
"Re'ay - See (pay attention), I am presenting before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you will hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem..."Let us look at the text from a few different angles. What blessing and what curse can we derive from either following or not following the Mitzvot (commandments) of Hashem? A Chassidic Rebbi, Reb Aharon Liefer from the mystical city of Sefat once told me that he learned from his great-grandfather, Reb Mordcheleh Nadvorner, that the verse could be understood quite literally; the blessing is in the DOING of the Mitzvot and the curse is in NOT DOING the Mitzvot. Don't look for the Hand of G-d to reward the good and punish the evil, just doing g-d's Will is a blessing in its self, not doing g-d's Will is its own curse.
As Jews we are forced both by the Torah and by society to live by a higher standard. Whether we live or don't live the lifestyle set forth by the Torah, is the blessing or the curse. Forget about reward or punishment. Our lives are made empty or full by the lifestyles we lead. Our blessing and our curse is inherent in how we live, it is not a result of living.
I have been recently asked my opinion on what is happening with and to the President of the United States over the Monica Lewinsky matter. My only comment is that it is a great shame that young children can no longer listen to news on either radio or television. The reports are so graphic that it is an embarrassment. The curse of not living by G-d's law is apparent to all.
We have two other questions in the above mentioned quote. First, we must understand exactly what it is that we have to "SEE." Second, a subtle message is being given to us that is lost from translating the Hebrew into the English language.
In the verse:
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, ZT"L answers both questions by teaching us that we are to observe those people who follow the Torah and the Mitzvot, and compare them with those who do not follow the Torah. Then we will see that for those who keep the Torah, life is a blessing, because they enjoy the blessings that Hashem gives them. For those who do not keep the Torah, however, life itself becomes a curse. No matter how much Hashem gives them, they are not satisfied and are envious of others who have more than they do.
Therefore the Torah tells us, Re'ay - You can SEE for yourselves that the biggest blessing is the very fact that you listen to Hashem's Torah and His Mitzvot. By doing so, you are able to find a blessing in everything that you have, and in everything that you do.
If, however, you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, then everything that you have will appear tp be a curse to you, because you will never be satisfied and will always want more.
There is a story told of the famous Chassidic Master, Rebbi Elimaylech. A Chassid once came to him and asked: "I have just read in one of the Torah's commentaries that, just as we are to praise Hashem for the good that He bestows upon us, so must we also bless Him for the bad that He bestows upon us."
The Chassid told Rebbi Elimaylech, that he could understand praising Hashem for the good that He bestows upon us, but how is it possible, or even desirous, to praise Him for the bad that happens to us?
The Rebbi said to his Chassid: "I can answer your question, my son, but my answer will not satisfy you. However, in a certain city is a Jew by the name of Moshe. Ask him the question and you will understand his answer."
The Chassid packed a bag and began his journey. We he arrived in the city he went to the local synagogue and there he met the Rosh Kohol (the head of the community). The Chassid told him that the Rebbi Elimaylech sent him to seek out a Reb Moshe to answer a question. The community head told the Chassid that there were many Reb Moshe's in this community, if he could hear the question, he might be able to direct him to the right individual.
The Chassid then revealed his question. The community head understood that only Reb Moshe the Banker could answer this question, and sent the Chassid in his direction. When the Chassid asked the Banker his question, the man looked perplexed and couldn't come up with an answer.
The Chassid returned to the community head and was given the address of a Reb Moshe the lumber dealer, also a man of learning, refinement and very wealthy. When the Chassid asked Reb Moshe the lumber dealer his question, the man looked bewildered and also couldn't come up with an answer.
The Chassid returned a number of times to the head of the community and each time was given the address of another Reb Moshe - the cattle dealer, the real estate man, even Reb Moshe the teacher in the local Chayder (school). None of these men could answer the Chassid's question.
Finally, the community head said that there was just one more Reb Moshe the wood collector, who lived at the edge of the forest. This Reb Moshe an ignorant man who made a living by collecting fallen branches and twigs from the forest and sold them as kindling to the local households.
Both the community head and the Chassid agreed that this could not be the man that the Rebbi Elimaylech meant, but he had come this far and would go ahead and approach the wood collector.
The Chassid came to the edge of the forest and saw a dilapidated rickety old house. As he climbed the stairs, they wobbled beneath him. As he knocked on the door, it broke off the hinges and fell to the floor.
The Chassid was about to turn around and leave, when an old man in shabby clothing came to the entrance. The old man asked him if he could be of help and the Chassid said that he didn't think so, but that he had been to the Rebbi Elimaylech and he asked him the following question: "I can understand praising Hashem for the good that He bestows upon us. But how is it possible, or even desirous, to praise Him for the bad?"
Reb Moshe, the wood collector, looked perplexed and said to the Chassid, "I can't understand why a Rebbi as holy as the Rebbi Elimaylech would send you to me, since nothing bad has ever happened to me."
The Chassid then understood why only this man could answer his question, for this man's attitude towards life was that his glass was always half full, and he thanked Hashem everyday for his blessings. The others, with all their wealth, had glasses that were half empty and they could never comprehend why Hashem didn't provide them with what they felt they needed in order to live a proper lifestyle.
The blessings and curses that Hashem gives us are in our eyes. If we SEE ourselves as lacking, then no matter what we have will be a curse upon us. However, if we SEE that Hashem is good and His every deed is also good, then we will always see the blessings and be thankful for all that He has provided for us.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Shema Yisrael Torah Network