Parshas Nitzavim (5776)
In Moses' last speech of his life to his beloved people, he prophesies about a time when the Jewish people will experience a full-scale return to G-d and His Torah. He says, "It will be that when all these things come upon you - the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you – then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where the Lord, your G-d, has dispersed you". (Deuteronomy 30:1) Some will say that this prophecy is being fulfilled in our own generation, when many Jews are finding their way back to G-d, while living in the midst of Western culture.
Be that as it may, there is a major problem with this verse. Generally, it's the curse of anti-Semitic persecution or personal tragedy that causes people to rethink their lives and to come back to G-d. Why then does the verse say that when the "blessing and the curse" will befall you, you will take My words to heart? How does blessing and good fortune lead one to return to G-d?
The great Chassidic Rabbi, R’ Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, answered with the following parable:
A farmer once rebelled against the king and cursed him, and threw stones at the statue of the king. Said the king to himself, "If I shall imitate the actions of other kings and torture this man until he dies as punishment for his rebelling against me, what will I have accomplished? The man will suffer for a few moments and then he's dead. What lessons will he learn? Better I should try a different approach. I won't sentence him to death. On the contrary, I will elevate him to a high position in the government. And so he did. The king appointed the farmer to an important position in his cabinet. The farmer saw close-up the kindness and beneficence of his king, and he started feeling terribly guilty that he had rebelled against such a kind ruler. The more the king did for him, the worse he felt, and the more he resolved never to curse the king again.
We know that G-d only wants the best for His children. So He sends us various messages and tests in order that we should change our ways and rethink our priorities in life.
But G-d has two tricks up His sleeve, just as the king in the parable. He may test us with difficult times and rough waters. After we're shaken up, we may start thinking more deeply into life and our real purpose here on earth.
There's also another way. G-d might just give us so much "blessing" that we feel like we just have to improve ourselves and act more spiritual. We start thinking to ourselves: He gives us good health, a wonderful spouse, beautiful children, a nice house, great friends etc. etc. - how can we not go to the synagogue on Shabbos just to say thanks for all this good He is showering upon us?! The least we can do to ‘pay G-d back’ for all these blessings that He gives us is to learn more about His Torah and explore more of His mitzvos. After all, compared to all the good that He has given us, commanding us not to speak Loshon Hara (gossip) about each other, or asking us to make a blessing before eating the yummy food He created for us is really not too much to ask for in return.
In this roundabout way, the “blessing” that our Father in Heaven sends us can often bring about a positive change in our behavior and in our relationship with G-d – probably even more effectively than the “curse”.
[We might try this approach at home with our kids, too. When our child does something bad, our first instinct is to punish him and teach that little brat a lesson. Well, instead of punishment, why not try and love the child even more? Tell him how special you think he is, and how you were just about to take him to the toy store to buy him a special gift for his good behavior. Sometimes, the mere feeling the child has that his parents are so good to him, and the regret he feels about his bad behavior, can bring about a change of attitude.]
This coming Monday is Rosh Hashanah, the “Day of Judgment”, when each and every one of us stands before G-d and our fate is decided for the coming year. For some of us, fear of a bad verdict, G-d forbid, is enough to motivate us to do teshuvah and make some serious changes in our lives so that we merit to have a good year.
For others, there is always the other approach. When we realize just how good our Father in Heaven has been to us not just during the past year but throughout our entire lives, we start feeling very guilty and inadequate, and we realize just how much we truly owe G-d, and how the very least we can do is to observe His mitzvos and to correct our bad behaviors just as He has commanded us.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life this Rosh Hashanah and have a year filled with happiness, good health, and meaningful living!
HAVE A HAPPY AND SWEET NEW YEAR!