Thursday, August 29, 2019



          This week, I went for a routine eye exam. The optometrist asked me the usual questions of “better now” or “still the same”, as he flipped the lenses while I was trying to decipher the letters on the wall. Then, as is the usual practice, he inserted drops to dilate my eye. The purpose of which is so he could shine a light on my pupil and see around it and behind it to make sure everything is functioning properly. Without forcing the eye to remain dilated, the pupil would automatically contract when a light would be shined upon it.
          The drawback of the dilation is that its effect lasts for a few hours. Being that it was a sunny day, it was a particular challenge, especially driving afterwards. When walking through a parking lot a short time later, I had to have one of my children direct me because I couldn’t look up because of the bright sunshine.
          The side benefit of that annoying ordeal was a brief appreciation for the miracle of vision and the fact that the eye regulates itself constantly, automatically dilating and constricting without our even being aware of it.

          “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you 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, your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did not know."[1]
          How can The Torah command us to see a blessing and a curse? One can see a building or a person, but how can one see an abstract concept?
          It is also intriguing that the Torah repeats the word “today” so many times. What message is the Torah trying to convey?
          Prima facie, the Torah here is referring to the concepts of reward and punishment. If one does good, he will receive reward/blessing; if not, he will receive punishment/curse. If so, why doesn’t the Torah refer to it directly as reward and punishment? Why refer to them as blessing and curse?
          The Nesivas Shalom explains that in fact the Torah is not referring to reward and punishment at all. The AriZal relates that every person is in this world to fulfill a unique mission, which no one else can accomplish. As the saying goes, “the day you were born is the day when G-d felt the world couldn’t exist without you in it.”
          When the Torah speaks of blessing and curse, it is regarding fulfilling one’s personal mission. The greatest blessing one can attain in this world is to fulfill his potential and personal mission in this world. Conversely, one who fails to live up to his own mission lives a cursed life.
          Each morning we recite a beracha thanking Hashem “Who has made for me (provided me) with all my needs.” Often, we feel that we would be happier and more satisfied if we had more. Still, we faithfully declare that whatever Hashem has provided us is what we need to fulfill our personal mission.
          It is regarding these talents that the pasuk refers to- “See! Look and analyze your strong points; contemplate your inherent capabilities and utilize them to attain what you are capable of attaining and becoming who you are able to become." Hashem gives those abilities and strength so, "that we hearken to the commandments".
          Nesivas Shalom continues by quoting "the true, righteous ones” who explain that those character traits which a person has the most difficult time with, are the very things one was sent into this world to rectify.
          My Rebbe, Berel Wein, would often relate that when the great chassidic rebbe, Rav Zusha of Anipoli, was on his death bed he was crying. His chassidim asked him why he was weeping; after all, he had lived an exemplary life and a great portion in the World to Come was undoubtedly awaiting him.
          The rebbe replied, “When the celestial court asks me why I wasn't as great as our patriarch Avrohom, I will be able to answer them. When they ask me why I wasn't as great as Moshe Rabbeinu I will also have what to answer. But when they ask me why I wasn’t Zushya; why I hadn’t lived up to my own potential, what will I answer then?!”
          That is essentially the most important question for us to ask ourselves - are we living up to our own capabilities, and if not, how can we do so?
          The Torah repeatedly says the word “today” because the most profound present we have is the present; the gift of today! Every single day has its own potential to be a blessing or a curse, depending how we utilize it.

          I had the privilege of hearing Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l, speak on a few occasions. Most of the time, the main point he conveyed was about the importance of time.
          He noted that we would think that if Moshe Rabbeinu was to request of Hashem one major request, he would ask for the deepest secret of Torah or the mystical explanations of the world. However, Dovid Hamelech tells us otherwise. Tehillim chapter 90, begins “A prayer for Moshe”. In that prayer Moshe requests that G-d help us, “To count our days, so make it known, for then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.” The great prayer of Moshe is that he be able to take advantage of his every day.
   Rabbi Scheinberg then added: “When I was a youngster of about nine years old, I would play stickball like every other kid. They used to call me Lefty Schineberg. But one who wants to become great must sacrifice lesiure and take advantage of his time. The world talks about killing time, because they don’t appreciate that time is the most valuable commodity we have.
   “The pathway to success in a spiritual life is to see one's self as a C.P.A. Every moment counts; time is money. One who stares at a watch sees that time is ticking away. Time is the most precious commodity we possess."

          The first of the thirteen blessings recited each morning, thanks Hashem for giving us the ability to differentiate between day and night. The Chiddushei Harim explained that day and night are also metaphors for right and wrong. A Jew thanks G-d each morning for the ability to discern between right and wrong so that he could make proper choices throughout his day.
          Why should we recite that blessing every day? The gift of free choice is granted to a person at the moment he is born and remains throughout his lifetime. Why do we need to thank Hashem for giving us the ability to choose wisely each morning?
          A couple of years ago, we had a neighbor, Roger, who was extremely neat and tidy. Every blade of grass was cut on his perfectly manicured lawn.
          Roger lived on a corner, which meant that his backyard was exposed to the road of the next street. In order to give himself more privacy he decided to plant bamboo shoots which are known to grow very quickly. Indeed, within a short time he had a natural and pleasant looking fence. A short time later, Roger moved away and sold his house.
          What Roger didn’t take into account is that the bamboo shoots don’t stop growing when you want them to. Now, a few years later the shoots are unwieldy and unkempt. Their leaves lean into the street, creating a dangerous blind spot in the intersection. Underneath the leaves is a mess of soda cans and other debris. The entire line of bamboo shoots is a terrible eye sore on that corner.
          The Sefas Emes[2] explains that when a person commits a sin, he has, in effect, compromised his free choice regarding that sin. Human nature is that when we make a mistake, in order to protect our egos, we use all sorts of psychological defenses and rationalisms to justify our actions. That enables a relatively minor infraction to quickly spiral into a series of sins.
          G-d grants us a gift that each morning is a fresh start. In the words of the prophet Yirmiyah, “they are renewed each morning; great is Your faithfulness.”[3] Each morning provides a person with the ability to contemplate his decisions and actions of the day before, and to decide if they need improvement or change. Unquestionably, a person can miss the opportunity and continue to allow himself to be drawn after his poor choices. But, if he takes advantage of the gift presented to him, each morning is a new start upon a renewed journey. 
          That is why this is the first of that series of berachos recite each morning. Life is about what we make of it, and what we make of it depends on how we see it. The Torah exhorts us to see the blessing, the opportunity for growth, and to live a life of daily meaning.
          Sefas Emes adds that this is what the pasuk is teaching us: “See that I have placed before you today blessing and curse.” Each day, each morning is an opportunity to start again and live a day of blessing. But tht blessing is contingent on whether we have the courage to take stock of our actions and ask ourselves if what we did yesterday truly contributed to what I want to become today and tomorrow.

“See that I am giving before you today blessing”
“To count our days, so make it known”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] 11:26-28
[2] Re’eh 5633
[3] Eicha 3:23


Post a Comment