“See, I put before you today a blessing and a curse…” Devarim/Deut. 11:26
With these words, this week’s Torah portion begins and we are immediately challenged to take a fresh look at the concept of free will. In these few words, the principle of CHOICE is highlighted, the principle that governs every action of our life. We could paraphrase it this way: “See, I put before you today the ability to walk in blessing and the ability to experience the very opposite. It’s your choice.”
The Hebrew word for blessing is bracha and the word for curse is kellalah. Looking at these two words through the eyes of Gematria (numberology) we discover that their combined value is 102, which most interestingly is the same numerical value for the word emunah – faith. We learn from this that the very foundation for making the choice between blessing and curse is faith. Do we truly believe from our hearts that Hashem’s Torah is truth, that it is His guideline for choosing our daily path? Do we believe that His plan for us is good, as Jeremiah told us: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the L-rd, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)
The Torah makes abundantly clear that the path of blessing is to live in accordance with Hashem’s will. When we choose to walk in His ways, to align our thoughts with His thoughts and our attitudes with the principles of His Torah, we position ourselves to be recipients of His blessing.
Note the use of the word “see“. Why not “Know that I put before you a blessing and a curse.”?
This Torah portion is always read on the Shabbat immediately preceding the first of the month of Elul, which is the Hebrew month dedicated annually to self-examination and repentance as we prepare our hearts for the sacred and biblical holy days of Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashana), Yom Kippur and Succot (the Feast of Tabernacles.) We are commanded in the Torah to observe these feasts “forever” and while forgiveness for transgression is immediate upon our repentance throughout the year, there is an added depth of forgiveness and a very real ‘new beginning’ granted to us by G-d every year at Yom Kippur:
And it shall be a statute forever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the native, or the stranger that dwells among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be clean before the L-rd. It is a sabbath of solemn rest unto you, and you shall afflict your souls; it is a statute forever. Lev. 16: 29-31
“See…” This is a hallmark word for the month of Elul which this year begins Saturday night at sundown. In a manner of speaking, Hashem is saying to us: “See”, that is – Ponder and consider if during the past year, your choices have brought blessing or curse to you? How have you lived? What have you learned? Were your mistakes, your failures, your transgressions turned into mitzvahs by the lessons you learned from your errors? What area or areas in your life will you choose to work on in the year to come? How is your kindness? Your speech? Your trust in Me? Where do you need to grow?
These are the things we need to “see”.
One of the Sages suggested this alternative rendering of the opening verse of Re’eh:
“See – the ‘I’ before you today….” Ego is neither good nor bad in itself. It’s what we do with it.
One of the most famous quotes from Hillel is “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?” The tension between self- love and true humility is always present. On the one hand, the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” requires that we have a healthy and appropriate self-love but too much self-love makes us arrogant and inconsiderate of others. A healthy self-love is based in our recognition and gratitude that we were created by a loving G-d whose plan for us is good and Who “daily loads us with benefits.” Psalm 68. Arrogance is just the opposite; self-centered, self-absorbed and not given to an attitude of thanksgiving. At the risk of sounding simplistic, we can say that the root of all sin is too much self-love. It is the choice I make when what I want is more important to me than what Hashem wants.
Choice defines our reality. For example, it is G-d’s choice of Israel that forever defines us as “His chosen people” (Deut. 14:2) It is our choice to obey Him which demonstrates that we identify and align with His choice of us.
As I wrote to you earlier this week, one of many possible ways to make the month of Elul truly significant for our spiritual growth is to use the book of Proverbs (Mishle) as a guide for self-examination during the next 30 days. Reading one chapter per day and taking even a single verse from each chapter as a springboard for meditation can be immensely helpful in our preparation for the new Hebrew year to begin one month from now.
In Tune with Torah this week = setting our minds and hearts to enter into Elul with humility and a deep desire to learn how to grow in holiness before Him.