Curses or Blessings
It’s up to you.
This week’s Torah reading describes at length the terrible suffering which will befall upon the Jewish nation should they not conduct themselves appropriately. God warns His people that they will experience curse after curse in every which way: health, finances, security etc. What is it that the Jews would do to deserve such a terrible fate? The Torah states an astonishing answer (28:47) “Because you did not serve God out of happiness and a satisfied heart, from all the good that was given to you.” As an illustration of the gravity of this statement: There could be a beautiful community where everyone adheres strictly to all the Torah laws. Everyone engages in acts of kindness, Torah is studied diligently, everyone participates in the prayer services, charity is given out generously and so on and so forth. And yet, God says, “These people are worthy of suffering My wrath. They are deserving of practically every curse possible.” Why? “Because they do not have a smile on their faces. They lack enthusiasm in keeping the Torah laws and they serve Me devoid of happiness!” How do we begin to understand such a principle?
Rabbi Avigdor Miller points out, that if we look carefully at the verse, the term used to introduce the reason for the curses is “Tachas,” which strictly speaking is defined as instead, not as because. Accordingly, the verse would read, “Instead of serving God out of happiness and a satisfied heart you will be cursed.” What is the meaning of this? Says Rabbi Miller, the commandments of the Torah are not merely about checking off different items on a chart as “done.” The essence of the laws of the Torah is to build our personal connection to God. Ideally, God wants to bestow upon us only blessings for us to enjoy, and use them as a vehicle to serve Him with joy, out of gratitude for all our pleasures. This is the primary way which God seeks that we connect with him, in the most positive way possible. However, if we do not utilize the blessings properly, and we do not build our personal relationship with God out of joy and gratitude, God has to resort to an alternate way to have His people turn to Him. God will not give up on the connection He seeks with His nation. If we neglect to turn to God by recognizing the blessings He has granted us, God will regretfully use other methods to get our attention. When we experience suffering, we naturally turn to God in prayer to alleviate our pain. When things get rough, we no longer forget about God, as we turn to Him in hope that He will come to our salvation. Hence, Instead of having blessings as a means to reinforce our connection to God, we will have to endure pain as the means to connect to our Creator.
This strategy of God could captured in following parable: There was a fellow who worked in an office on a high floor in a skyscraper in Manhattan. It was the end of the week, and he stayed late to finish up his work before the weekend. When he finally finished, he found himself locked in his office with no way of getting out. As it turned out, he did not have his cell phone with him, the phone lines were down for maintenance, and he had no way to contact for help. The only venue he could possibly use to attract the attention of the world outside was through his window. He opened the window and started shouting for help, but he was too high from the ground for his voice to reach the people below. In desperation, he grabbed some cash, went to the window, and threw the money down to the ground. He then started waving his arms wildly with the anticipation that the pedestrians would look up to see the source of the windfall, and see that he needed help. To his dismay, the people rushed to grab the bills, but no one looked up. He made another attempt and repeated his actions. This time he added a few twenties and hundreds to the descending cash. To his disbelief, once again everyone came running to grab a share in the money, but not a single person looked up. It was getting late, and his efforts were proving to be futile. As a last resort, he took an expensive glass vase he had in his office and threw it down. All of the sudden, everyone looked upwards and saw him…
God has given us the choice. If we are wise, we will make sure to keep our minds directed towards Heaven out of happiness and gratitude, as the “dollar bills” descend upon us. If we fail to utilize our blessings for the service of God with the proper attitude and we don’t look upwards, God forbid, God has warned us that He will have to “shatter glass” in front of our eyes, as the alternative method to direct our minds towards Him.
Parshas Ki Seitzei 5779/2019
email@example.com by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimbe