Friday, August 10, 2007

* Is The Cup Half Blessed Or Half Cursed?

We see the blessing
When listening to commands
A curse in reverse
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's comment, pointed out to me by a friend, on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal: "The two mountains are both watered by the same rain and dew, the same air breathes over them, the same pollen wafts over both of them and yet Ebal remains in barren bleakness while Gerizim is clad to its summit in embellishment and vegetation.

In the same way, blessing and curse are not conditional on external circumstances but on our own inner receptivity for the one or the other.....Crossing the Jordan... we are placed between the alternative of blessing or curse, and by our own moral behavior we have to decide for ourselves for a Gerizim or Ebal future".

The Parsha's first words, "Behold I put before you today a blessing and a curse." If G-d is all good, how can negative come from Him?

The Seforno answers by noticing the presence of the seemingly extra word here; "hayom". Sunlight serves here as a metaphor; the sun serves to bleach and to blacken, it hardens and softens. These different results are not because of the sun itself but because of the nature of that which is reacting to the sun's rays.

Similarly, the essence of G-d is one, the positive or negative reactions manifested within people are the result of differences in their behavior. I heard these ideas from Rabbi Pesach Oratz. Rabbi Oratz added that the word notein used here relating to the blessing or curse that G-d gives, is a palindrome. This is another indication that what one receives from G-d is a function of one's behavior.

May Hashem bless us to choose the blessing of Gerizim.

"See I put in front of you today a blessing and a curse;
the blessing if you listen..."

Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells of a little boy whose parents considered steroid treatment because he was little long after his friends had grown. They tried to cheer him up, telling him about Gedolim who - ironically - were physically small. They told him that big things come in small packages. Still, the issue haunted them until finally they went to the top doctor in the field. They decided this doctor was the end of the line. The doctor was wary of telling them what to do. They rephrased the question: "If it were your son, what would you do?" The doctor replied, "I'll answer that question honestly; If it were my son I'd do the treatment, but only because I have no choice. I live in a culture which emphasizes the external. But you live in a spiritual society, where what's inside is premium, so you don't need to do this treatment." j

My students have challenged the doctor's perception that the traditional Jewish community is not concerned with the external. We need to work to place substance over surface in practice. Certainly this is a Torah ideal. The blessing of Torah comes when we listen to the Torah. G-d prefaces this aphorism about His blessing with the word see, rather than with the seemingly more fitting hear. To see the blessing before us is what we are asked to do, but there in lies the rub, Because we see so many things. And we're asked to see what we don't see - blessings and curses that are like spiritual air. It's so hard to see the blessing and the curse, but the first step is to look. May G-d bless us to see.

In Devarim 15:11 we're told that poor people will be around forever and that we should open our hand to our poor brothers. The word "leimor", which means to tell someone else what we're being told seems out of place in the middle of this sentence. Read carefully our pasuk is telling us what to say to poor people.
The Rebi of Vorki (cited by Rabbi Abraham Twerski) notes that what we tell poor people to lift their spirits is crucial The Torah is suggesting that we remind a poor person of the way the world works: "Today you're down and out, but tomorrow you will be opening your hand and helping someone needy." The preceding line elucidates this approach: “You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for in return for this matter, Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.”
The Hebrew word used here for because – biglal – is the same root as the word goleil, to roll. The Abarbanel suggests that the Torah is intimating that fortune and misfortune are wheels whose constant spinning guarantees that someone will always need and someone else will always be able to provide. May we be blessed to remember and respond well to the cyclical nature of life.
* This is a reposting of three posts that were accidentally put up a week early. In savig as drafts and reposting the very nice comment from last week has sadly been lost.


Blogger Unknown said...


I wish you could help our pastor with his sermons, Neil.


August 10, 2007 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

P.S. I was reminded instantly of Jesus's parable of the sower from Matthew 13. (see below) When I Googled it just now, I was interested to read on several sites that Matthew's is considered the "most Jewish" of the Christian Gospels, containing myriad references to Old Testament theology.

"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop— a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear."

August 10, 2007 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thank you Anne. It is very meaningful to me to hear that my words have meaning for you. Your citation reminded me of David's words (maybe paraphrased by Paul Simor) about having ears but not listening.

August 10, 2007 at 7:28 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

That's Paul Simon.

August 12, 2007 at 7:54 PM  

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