Dedicated In Honor of my wife Danielle by Ikey Mandalawi
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.
Overcoming Life's Challenges Will Help Us Grow
Rabbi Manis Friedman told a story about a time he was invited to speak in Argentina. The flight was from Minnesota to New York, to Chile and then finally to Buenos Aires. He wasn’t a good flyer in general, and this was a particularly difficult flight. His plan was to get picked up and dropped to his hotel so he that he could rest a little so he would be fresh to be able to speak at the event the next morning. But when he got in the car, the shaliach that picked him up said they had to make a stop on the way. There was a woman in town that had experienced a terrible tragedy and she hadn’t left her apartment in six months. She requested to speak with Rabbi Friedman. The rabbi felt exhausted after his flight and he was reluctant to go, but the driver had already pulled up to her house, not leaving the rabbi with much of a choice.
When he got to the woman’s apartment, he described her as someone who looked like she had passed away but no one let her know. Her eyes were lifeless, her skin was dull, her voice was monotonous. She was clearly depressed. She told Rabbi Friedman about how six months ago her son passed away in a car accident at age 19. She told him how he was sweet, kind, and respectful. The rabbi told her, “It sounds like he was an amazing kid. And you had him for 19 years!” The woman was not impressed. The rabbi asked her, “What if there was no shock? What if Hashem asked you, ‘I have this amazing soul. He needs to be born and live for 19 years. I’m looking for someone to be his mother. Can you do it?’ What would you answer G-d?” The rabbi was so sure she would say yes, but she answered quickly, “Absolutely not!” Rabbi Friedman said, “Well it’s a good thing G-d didn’t ask you. The woman fell apart and cried her eyes out as if a dam had opened up. All of a sudden she came back to life in front of Rabbi Friedman’s eyes.
When Rabbi Friedman got back in the car, he remembered how annoyed he was that no one had asked him if he could go to the woman. And if they had asked, he would’ve answered, “Absolutely not!” It would have been the wrong answer. He was so moved by the experience. If Hashem asked people before giving them challenges, we would never amount to anything. The most growth comes from difficult challenges and the most meaningful experiences come with the hardest times. In the end we must know that Hashem loves us like a father loves his children and everything he does for us is only good! Amen!
May we always follow in Hashem’s ways and His commandments which are only good for us in this world and will benefit us in the world to come. Especially now that we’re approaching the month of Elul when we must start to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. As we read in the story above, know that all the obstacles and challenges that Hashem sends our way are for us to grow in order to earn our place with the Shechina in Olam Habah!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
· How many times can you think of when you set out to do something but then the plans you made were changed because somehow you got involved with something else that you never expected and that you wouldn’t have done on your own if not for Hashem guiding you on that path which in the end you were glad that He did?
Eliyahu Ben Rachel
Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Avraham Ben Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah
Esther Bat Sarah
Avraham Ben Mazal
Shulamit Bat Helaina
Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Rahamim Ben Mazal
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther
Rafael Ben Miriam
Ovadia Ben Esther
Rav Haim Ben Rivka
Moshe Ben Mazal
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Avraham Ben Mazal
Meir Ben Latifa
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