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Parshas Eikev (5777)

Don't Sell Yourself Short!

The second paragraph of the Shema prayer that we recite twice a day – in the morning and the evening - comes from this week's Torah portion, Parshas Eikev.

It begins with the words, "V'haya im sha'moa tish’meu … - It will be that if you hearken to My commandments … then I shall provide rain for your land in its proper time … that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. I shall provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and you will be satisfied. Beware for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others ...." (Deuteronomy 11:13-16).

In the next verse the Torah goes on to tell what will happen to those who stray. G-d's wrath will blaze against them and He will hold back the rain and the ground will not yield its produce.

What's puzzling about this biblical passage is that it doesn't seem to flow properly. The verse begins by promising all kinds of great rewards to the Jewish people for keeping G-d's commandments, and then, all of a sudden, it starts to warn them not to be seduced and to stray after other gods!

Where's the segue from being good and deserving all those rewards, to straying and being punished accordingly? It should have stated, "But if you sin, then G-d's wrath will blaze against you". Instead, the Torah just states that G-d will give your animals food to eat, and you will be satisfied, and then - BOOM - take heed that your hearts don't turn away from G-d, or His wrath will blaze against you!

What's the missing link between the two ideas mentioned in the paragraph?

Rabbi Joseph Mordechai Baumol ZT”L once offered a homiletical interpretation of the above verses which yields a powerful message for life and a beautiful answer to our question:

Sometimes we sell ourselves short.

Like the story about the man who bought a fancy computer with all the "shtick" and placed it on his breakfront for display, with a picture of his two daughters gracing the top of it. His friend came in and saw what he did, and told him, "You fool, don't you realize what that computer is? It has the ability to get you information about millions of things in a matter of seconds. Its power is amazing! This amazing machine can literally change your life! And you put it on display like it was some piece of artwork to stare at?"

Our brains and our personalities (which are really our neshamah, or "soul" - the essence of who we are) are infinitely more complex and powerful than any computer will ever be. With the sheer force of our personalities, we can change our lives, the lives of those around us, and we can even change the course of history! We can rise to the highest levels of morality and holiness. Such is the power of the human spirit - the neshamah – that spirit which we believe is actually a breath from G-d Himself.

We each have such "e-normous" potential to impact spiritually on ourselves and the world around us - and it all comes from that powerful supercomputer inside of us - that we can all become "World Wide Rebbes", each in his or her own way!

Yet instead of utilizing the tremendous spiritual energy that we were given by G-d to its fullest potential, we often tend to busy ourselves for the better part of our lives with "animal food" - i.e. we are walking around with a neshamah as powerful and life-impacting as any supercomputer, yet we don't realize it, and we satisfy ourselves with spiritual mediocrity. We feed our souls ‘food’ that is way below the quality that we truly deserve. Tragically, we don’t understand who we truly are and we sell ourselves short.

This is the powerful message that the Torah wishes to convey in these verses in the second portion of the Shema. G-d is giving us food for our animals – yet we’re eating it and being satisfied? If we are so out of touch with our true essence that we are being satisfied with “animal food”, then we are really in danger of straying from G-d!

We are fast approaching the High Holiday season, which is always a good time to contemplate where we are in life spiritually speaking ... and where we would like to be.

So we should take a lesson from our PC ... if that computer sitting on our desk has the ability to revolutionize the way the world works due to its endless information and incredible power, then the neshamah/brain/personality that's sitting on our heads can do even more than that for us in our own personal lives.

Let us no longer satisfy ourselves with animal food and spiritual mediocrity. If we truly want to grow and get a closer connection to G-d – if we really want to change ourselves and the world around us for the better - we must know that we have the power to do so. It's all right there inside us. We just have to click on our neshamahs and go for it!

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