Erev 27 Elul 5775
יט הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ
כ לְאַהֲבָה אֶת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ כִּי הוּא חַיֶּיךָ וְאֹרֶךְ יָמֶיךָ לָשֶׁבֶת עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהֹוָה לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶם
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 30:19-20
19 I call the heavens and the earth today to witness against you: I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring —
20 to love haShem your G-d, to listen to His voice and to cleave to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days, to dwell upon the land that haShem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaaqov, to give them.*
העדתי בכם היום את השמים ואת הארץ: שהם קיימים לעולם וכאשר תקרה אתכם הרעה יהיו עדים שאני התרתי בכם בכל זאת. דבר אחר העידתי בכם היום את השמים וגו' אמר להם הקב"ה לישראל, הסתכלו בשמים שבראתי לשמש אתכם, שמא שנו את מדתם שמא לא עלה גלגל חמה מן המזרח והאיר לכל העולם, כענין שנאמר (קהלת א, ה) וזרח השמש ובא השמש, הסתכלו בארץ שבראתי לשמש אתכם, שמא שנתה מדתה, שמא זרעתם אותה ולא צמחה, או שמא זרעתם חטים והעלתה שעורים, ומה אלו שנעשו לא לשכר ולא להפסד אם זוכין אין מקבלין שכר ואם חוטאין אין מקבלין פורענות, לא שנו את מדתם, אתם שאם זכיתם תקבלו שכר ואם חטאתם תקבלו פורענות על אחת כמה וכמה
ובחרת בחיים: אני מורה לכם שתבחרו בחלק החיים, כאדם האומר לחבירו בחר לך חלק יפה בנחלתי ומעמידו על חלק היפה ואומר לו את זה ברור לך, ועל זה נאמר (תהלים טז, ה) ה' מנת חלקי וכוסי אתה תומיך גורלי, הנחת ידי על גורל הטוב לומר את זה קח לך
This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses: For the heaven and earth exist for ever, and when the evil befalls you, they will be witnesses that I had warned you regarding all of this. Another explanation of “I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses, etc.”: The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Israel, “Look at the heavens which I created to serve you. Have they ever changed their ways? Has the sphere of the sun ever failed to rise from the east to illuminate the entire world, as it is stated, ‘The sun rises, and the sun sets’ (Koheleth/Ecclesiastes 1:5)? Look at the earth which I created to serve you. Has it ever changed its ways? Have you ever sown [in] it that it did not grow? Or have you ever sown wheat and it yielded barley? Now, they [heaven and earth] were created with neither reward nor loss in mind-for if they are meritorious [by fulfilling their purpose for which I created them], they nevertheless do not receive reward [for this]; and if they sin, they are not punished. And yet [even with this lack of incentive], they have never changed their ways! So you, who will receive reward if you are meritorious and who will be punished if you sin-how much more so [should you fulfill My will]!”- [Sifrei 32:1]
you shall choose life: [God says: “Even though you have free choice, nevertheless,] I instruct you to choose the portion of life.” It is like a man who says to his son, “Choose for yourself a fine portion of my estate,” and then directs him to the best portion, saying to him, “This [is the portion which] you should choose for yourself!” And regarding this, the verse says,“The Lord is my allotted portion and my cup; You guide my destiny” (Ps. 16:5). [The last clause, אַתָּה תּוֹמִיךְ גּוֹרָלִי, literally means “You laid upon my lot.” That is to say:] “You laid my hand upon the good lot, saying, ‘Take this for yourself!’”
- Gratitude; thankful recognition
- The act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value.
- Clear perception or recognition, especially of aesthetic quality.
There are more definitions, but these will do for the purposes of this essay. By this set of meanings, it can be shown that the act of appreciation does not have only to do with positive experiences or beautiful things, but with everything that is put in front of us.
This is the portion I went along with my husband and studied this past Monday with our rabbi and his study group. I don’t usually go with my husband to do this; but, because the yeshiva is not in normal mode due to the upcoming holidays and I was off from work, this was an exception.
When we got to the part where Rashi says:
“Look at the earth which I created to serve you. Has it ever changed its ways? Have you ever sown [in] it that it did not grow? Or have you ever sown wheat and it yielded barley? Now, they [heaven and earth] were created with neither reward nor loss in mind-for if they are meritorious [by fulfilling their purpose for which I created them], they nevertheless do not receive reward [for this]; and if they sin, they are not punished. And yet [even with this lack of incentive], they have never changed their ways! So you, who will receive reward if you are meritorious and who will be punished if you sin-how much more so [should you fulfill My will]!”- [Sifrei 32:1]
The rabbi was stumped. For many years he could not understand why the “all the more so (על אחת כמה וכמה),” since the inanimate objects do not have will at all, much less choice and free will – so why the comparison at all with human beings?
We all traded thoughts back and forth, and then fell silent. Then I had a flash – “We need to appreciate that G-d gave us choice.”
The rabbi pointed at me and said “That’s it!” and had me repeat it again. I wish I could do this all the time - even if I would be wrong occasionally, so that I could learn more.
I bring this to you, my gentle readers, because it was just as much a revelation to me as it was to the Rav and the class. It clued me into something especially for me that just might have something for everyone. I don’t say that lightly because I find it difficult to relate some things I have experienced to other people. Let’s just leave it at this: I have gone through some things that are rather uncommon to the average person. Until now I have had a difficult time learning how to appreciate, in all the word’s meanings, the events that touch my life, even (maybe especially) the negative ones. But, even the weather can have something special in it for some of us. I hope to get to that level, someday. (The huge thunderstorm with added hail last April is another example of weather reaching out to us. Extremes don’t happen often in Yerushalayim. We’re about half a mile high on nearly the same latitude as Atlanta, GA.)
The power of choice is something haShem did not grant lightly either. This, along with speech, is what makes us most like Him. As long as He remains hidden, we will have choice even on our most important question. We can give credit where credit is due to haQadosh Baruch Hu — or not. He also has the option on how much of the consequences must be dealt us for any lack of recognition we choose.
- Here is an article about some interesting choices American Jews making concerning aliyah to Israel.
- Here is another post about the value of a human life (and kindly notice that the Israeli/Jewish life is worth far less than the black one.)
- Here is an example of appreciating a tough issue and getting through it.
- Here is an example of what the nations (particularly those in Europe) think of the Jewish nation.
As a matter of fact, according to Midrash Bereshith Rabbah, appreciation is the main reason mankind was created. Borei haOlam wanted a creature that could realize and understand His greatness and that of the creation He made.
Thus, when the ministering angels said before the Holy One, blessed is He, "Master of the World, what is frail man that You should remember him, and the son of mortal man, that You should be mindful of him? (Teh. 8:5) - why should this trouble be created?"[G-d] replied to them, "If so, sheep and cattle, all of them, and also the beasts of the field (ibid. v. 8) - why were they created? The birds of the sky and the fish of the sea - why were they created?" -This can be compared to a king who had a tower full of every good thing, and he did not have wayfarers with whom to share it. - What pleasure does the king have from that with which he filled it?
Here’s a thought: Perhaps G-d made something potentially almost as great as He Himself. How could that be? He never has to do teshuva in the same sense that we do. So, Teshuva – return, regret, repentance – is something to which we must assign highest value, especially in this season. Because He loves it, and us.
I hope this post has made teshuva easier for all of you, as well as for me. I’ll be thinking about it all year.
May you have a good and sweet year 5776. שנה ה"תשעו טובה ומתוקה.
A good writing and signing (for a good year ahead). כתיבה וחתימה טובה.
Complete redemption now! גאולה שלימה עכשיו!
*English translation from hard copy of November 2009, Herczeg, R’ Yisrael Isser Zvi, ed., The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary, Deuteronomy, pp. 317-18. Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, NY.