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Shabbat Parashat R'ei 5778

Parashat Hashavua: Today a Blessing and a Curse

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 505-6

“See, I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse” (Devarim 11:26). On the one hand, even today, despite the past, whatever will be, there is a blessing before you. Even if in the past there was heavy fog and yesterday was gloomy, do not give up.

On the other hand, even if you succeeded yesterday and you climbed rung after rung on the ladder of becoming a complete human being, you should not fall asleep on your watch. Do not rely on the beat to keep playing. Do not be satisfied by the past, as wonderful as it may have been, because today there is a curse standing there before you.

How does one measure blessing and curses? Is it based on what one sees during his lifetime, whether it be 70 or 80 years? That is hard to claim, because Hashem has His ways of running the world. There are times that one goes through a rough but worthwhile cleansing of his sins. There are all sorts of forms through which one is punished for his actions. This is thus not the way to measure true blessing and curses. It is as it says in the Sifrei (R’ei 53) about our question: There is a parable of two paths. One has thorns in the beginning and is straight and clear at the end. The other is the opposite. Since life is eternal, the years of life that we see in this world, are like the equivalent of two or three days. On any given day, one could experience this path or that path or both.

There is an old disagreement among philosophers. Some look at the world and see everything in rosy colors; they also see man as a being who is naturally all good. They claim that if we would allow a person to develop according to his natural characteristics, the perfect person would emerge. The whole tragedy of our imperfect world is that the conditions of life get a person used to doing bad things.

There is another outlook that is diametrically opposed. “The nature of a person’s heart is bad from his youth”; “There is no one who does good.” Such observers always push themselves to find that which is negative.

The Torah goes in the middle between these outlooks. It views man as harboring both elements within his midst. Whether he clasps onto good or evil is for him to choose. True, the Torah does say “The nature of a person’s heart is bad from his youth” (Bereishit 8:21). But it also says that “man was created in the image of Hashem” (ibid. 9:6). Therefore, we never give up on a person. We believe that he has great moral and spiritual powers. “Today, there is blessing.” On the other hand, we are always suspicious of a person’s prospects and must always be morally vigilant – “Do not believe in yourself until the day that you die” (Avot 2:4).

Between these two extremes, good and bad, a person’s life is a perpetual battle to maintain his level. He needs to see this and know this … and come to the right conclusions.

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