Parashat Re'Eh / Elul
Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Rafael Ben Dinah by Albert Jammal
This week’s parasha opens with the passuk, “Re’eh anochi noten lefnehem hayom beracha u’kelala.” According to Hashem’s instructions, Moshe said to B’nei Yisrael, “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.”
The parasha continues: “The blessing is that you observe the commandments of Hashem your G-d, that I commanded you today. And the curse if you do not follow the commandments of Hashem your G-d and if you stray from the path that I commanded you today and follow other gods [idols] that are foreign to you and that you do not know.”
Just Look and See!
Why does the Torah begin this parasha with the word “re’eh,” which means “see” or “look?”
Hashem is telling us very plainly: Just open your eyes and look! The path is straight in front of us and it’s so obvious! Follow the Torah and Hashem’s commandments, and you will see so much blessing with your children and your family that will carry you throughout your entire life. The blessing and the curse are not simply promises for Olam Haba. Rather, they are here for us to enjoy today in this world!
The Malbim comments on this verse, saying that if you just look and observe, then you can actually see that the people who follow the Torah’s commandments have a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. They have a sense of spiritual growth and physical enjoyment in this world.
The blessings are there for all of us to see and enjoy in the here and now.
Although most of us can see in a physical sense, we may be blind spiritually. Rabbi Twersky gives an example: Why would an intelligent person continue to smoke cigarettes, knowing as we do now all the negative effects of smoking? The answer is that we see only what we want to see, and we are blind to what we don’t want to see.
Just Try It!
This theory also applies to us as Jews, because although it’s so clear how wonderful and special a true Torah life would be, many people will unfortunately choose not to see it. From the outside it may look hard or burdensome, but when you’re in it and when it’s a part of your life, you can see how wonderful it really is.
I once heard an interesting analogy: A person may be able to carry one or maybe even two of those five-gallon bottles of water at a time, but it will probably be very heavy and difficult for him. But if he were to dive into a swimming pool, then no matter how enormous the load of water, he’d be able to handle it with ease. Not only would it be easy for him, it would be enjoyable. In the same way, a truly observant Jew enjoys a Torah life: it’s not difficult or burdensome in the least, because the spirituality and endless rewards of that life lift us up as the water in the pool would. It’s simply the most enjoyable and pleasurable life that one can have.
“The blessing is that you observe the commandments of Hashem (11:27).” According to the plain meaning, this phrase teaches us that the believing person who keeps the mitzvot feels content. He accepts everything that happens to him as the will of Hashem and is blessed with peace of mind, as opposed to the person who does not keep mitzvot, who becomes frustrated and disgruntled whenever things do not turn out the way he would like them to. Furthermore, the very fact that we are serving Hashem and keeping mitzvot instead of leading an animalistic existence pursuing vanities is a blessing in and of itself, even without the expectation of any other reward.
Ohr Hahayim HaKadosh says that apart from the reward that Hashem gives us for listening to his commandments and learning Torah, the sweetness and the inner joy that a person gets from learning Torah is in itself the greatest reward.
We say every morning in birkot hashachar, “Vhaarev na Hashem et divre toratecha—Please Hashem, our G-d, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth and in the mouths of Your people, the House of Israel. May we, and our offspring, and our offspring’s offspring (and the offspring of Your people, the House of Israel) – all of us—know Your Name and study Your Torah for its own sake. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who teaches Torah to His People, Israel.”
An End in Itself, or a Means to an End?
The Ramban presents another teaching on the blessing and the curse. All berachot are not a reward for good deeds. Rather, they are a means to an end, prerequisites for the performance of mitzvot and the fulfillment of Hashem’s will. The berachot in our lives, like good health, family, or prosperity, are given to us in order to enable us to obey Hashem’s commandments.
It’s not the other way around, where one might say, “I’ll pray and I’ll do the mitzvot so that Hashem will bless me and reward me with health, wealth, etc.” On the contrary, Hashem gives us peace and free time so that we may use it to pray properly and study the Torah. He gives us money so that we may give tzedaka to the needy.
Therefore, there is no excuse for straying from the ways of Hashem. The Torah says, “Do not stray from the path that I commanded you today, to follow other gods [idols] that you did not know.” The Torah is warning us not to get consumed by the outside culture of today, which is identical to idolatry, because it will eventually lead to our downfall, has veshalom.
Notice how the Torah uses the word “today.” The reason for this is that someone may say, “I have sinned so much, it’s too late for me to change my ways.” The word “today” indicates to us that it’s never too late for someone to repent and improve their ways.
This is another reason why this parasha is usually read when we’re about to enter the month of Elul and begin to prepare ourselves for the days of Judgment and Atonement: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These are the days, of course, where we approach Hashem for teshuva. It’s a time to elevate ourselves, to get closer to Hashem, to eagerly follow His commandments, and to make a plan for growing spiritually in the upcoming year.
A Miracle in Great Neck
Rabbi David Ashear tells an incredible story in Living Emunah about Hashem’s miraculous ways. A woman from Great Neck related that in the summer of 2012, her 2-year-old daughter fell into a pool. When she was pulled out, she did not have a pulse, her eyes were open, her face was blue, and her nails were purple. It appeared as though she had already passed away. While her husband performed CPR on their daughter, the mother cried out to Hashem. She decided at that moment to accept upon herself from then on that she would dress modestly and cover her hair.
Miraculously, within a few minutes the child’s pulse was restored, at which point she was rushed to the hospital in a Hatzalah ambulance. During the time the girl spent in the hospital, Tehillim was being recited by Jews across the world. Six of the top neurologists were brought in to examine the girl, and she underwent hours upon hours of testing. When the testing was finally completed, the chief doctor, Dr. Keith Meyer, said to the parents, “Your daughter is a walking miracle.” The doctors obtained a video of the accident taken by a surveillance camera and it showed to their sheer astonishment, that the girl had been underwater for three minutes and ten seconds. She should have been clinically dead. Yet, there was not even a trace of any brain damage, Baruch Hashem she was alive and well.
The doctor, who is Jewish, said to the parents, “I don’t know what I have believed until now, but now I clearly see that there is a G-d in the world.” He noted that he had, unfortunately, seen many children who had been underwater for less than a minute and suffered permanent brain damage. It made no medical sense that this girl suffered no damage after being underwater for that long. We see from this story that Hashem can do anything. Nothing is impossible for Him. No matter what the situation is, the problem can always be solved. As long as there is hope and tefillah, the salvation will come!
This can be a very important wake-up call for all of us as we enter the month of Elul and prepare ourselves for teshuva. May this month of Elul bring us closer to Hashem and May we never need wake-up calls. May we all have the strength to open our eyes and see all the berachot that Hashem has given us and use them to learn more and follow the ways of the Torah. May we also turn away from outside influences so that we may grow in our observance of Torah and mitzvot, and so that we may have families that are committed to a true Torah life. Also, may we learn that learning Torah is a gift, and be inspired to take advantage of the opportunity of teshuva coming upon us very soon! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
If G-d had spared your life by a miracle, what would you do differently?
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