We all want
But usually, the reason we choose that which is not in our best interest is because it seems, at the moment, to be what's truly good and desirable. After all, the standard procedure of the yetzer ha'ra is not to announce to us openly that he is peddling perversity, but, rather, to proclaim his wares as the right choice for us: all natural, wholesome goodness. (Don't cigarette companies, in their advertisements, link their product with zest and vitality and the outdoors? "Choose life," they tell us.)
The problem is that we lose sight of what's truly good for us in the moment of temptation, when faced with the opportunity of satisfying a pressing urge (whether to eat or smoke or share the juicy bit of gossip). Or perhaps it's more accurate--if also more damning--to say that we often blind ourselves to the real truth, though we are usually not consciously aware of these intrapsychic shenanigans. This capacity for rationalization, for convincing ourselves that what we merely want to do is actually the right (and rational) thing to do, is one of our uniquely human attributes!
It is this human failing that the Torah wishes to upend with the first word of this parsha, passionately uttered by Moshe Rabbeinu: "SEE!" Yes, Moshe is telling us, you've been guilty of blinding yourselves and losing sight of the true nature of your existence, and thereby losing touch with the fundamental life-choice you constantly face. But, now, at the end of your time in the desert (where you witnessed time and again the consequences of your errors), as you prepare to enter a new life in the Land of Israel, see…see clearly the choice the Torah presents to you. While the rest of the passage is in the plural, the word, "see," is in the singular. Each one of us, individually, is being implored.
On the one hand, brachah--spiritual blessing, meaning in life, a connection to what is godly and eternal (provided by each individual mitzvah of the Torah, and by all the mitzvos collectively). On the other hand, k'lalah--a "curse," related to the Hebrew root meaning, "light" and "insubstantial." As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch beautifully explicates the word: "the positive loss of all one's own value, the retrogression to absolute zero of one's position in life."
Is there any better--or more bitter--characterization of a life disconnected from G-d? Absolute zero. And conversely, a connection to G-d means absolute value, true existence.
I'm not usually so severe, am I? It's not just because I haven't had my coffee yet. The truth is, it's a wonderfully appropriate time for trying to see things with greater clarity: the month of Elul--the time of preparation for Rosh Hashanah--begins on Sunday. Next week, we will begin to blow the shofar after morning services, an custom intended to scare the cobwebs from our eyes and minds, and get us seeing clearly. Maimonidies, in his "Laws of Repentance," interprets its message for us: "Awake, awake, O sleeper from your sleep, O slumberers, arouse yourself from your slumbers; examine your deeds, return in repentance and remember your Creator. Those of you who forget the truth in the follies of the times [that's me and you, folks] and go astray the whole year in following what's insubstantial…look to your souls."
As the Shem M'Shmuel puts it, the voice of the shofar "awakens new life in the heart of Israel."
May we all rub the sleep from our eyes this Shabbos, and see the greatness and beauty of our Torah and mitzvos…truly the path of blessing.
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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