In this past week’s Parsha, we read in the Torah about the various blessings that will be bestowed upon the Jewish People if they do what they are meant to do, and the various curses that will strike the Jewish People if they do not act as they are commanded to.
During the narrative, there is a certain point where the Torah says, “The blessings will come upon you, and they will reach you,” and later, “the curses will come upon you, and they will reach you.”
Rabbi Yissocher Frand asks, if the Torah promises the blessings, or curses, will come upon us, is it not obvious that they, by definition reach us? Inasmuch as the Torah does not mince its words– It is very precise in its word choice–what is the lesson from this redundancy?
Rabbi Frand mentions that there will surely be blessings that come upon us. There is no question that this will happen. However, it is indeed up to each and everyone of us, if the blessings will reach us. Sometimes we are so distracted, and busy with our lives, that we simply fail to notice the abundance of blessings in our lives. Therefore, while present, they never actually reach us.
This lesson hit home this past week, after spending two days in the ICU with my beloved Saba, (grandfather) of blessed memory. Spending time there was simply jarring. The sounds of pain and suffering that I heard. The sights that I saw. It was exceedingly painful. Then, when I went outside for a lunch break, a myriad of thoughts flooded my mind. How blessed I was that I could walk, with my own two legs, outside. That I could enjoy and cherish the stunningly beautiful Northern California foggy blue sky. That I could relish and savor the warm breeze whisk through my hair. That I could eat, on my own accord, food that I purchased. That I could go to the bathroom, on my own, afterwards. I keenly felt a plethora of blessings that are so common and mundane, that on any other day, or in any other circumstance, I simply would not have noticed. And if I would not have noticed them, I would not have taken pleasure in them, and felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy for them.
The blessing we are given then, is to let these blessings in our lives truly reach us– so we can internalize them, and cherish them, because they are truly not a given.
And by the same token, says Rabbi Frand, we need to make sure that the curses reach us as well. Sometimes G-d will send us a not-so-subtle message that can be painful. But we need to do a cheshbon hanefesh, or an accounting of our soul, and ponder what exactly G-d might be trying to tell us. To ask, what exactly G-d might want from us.
When we first moved into my new home, everything that could go wrong, did. The plumbing backed up. That was super gross. There was an ant infestation in my children’s room. The heater stopped working and we needed to replace the unit. We had to fix the garage door multiple times. Eventually, we simply asked ourselves, what is the message here? What is G-d trying to tell us?
When I was in High School I was becoming more religiously observant, and I was debating if I was ready to begin strictly observing the Jewish Sabbath. I recall when Saturday morning, I was at synagogue, wondering if I was going to play a double header baseball game that afternoon. I decided that I could begin to fully keep Shabbos after the baseball season. In the second inning, while I was catching, there was a play at the plate. The right fielder threw a strike straight to me, and I tagged the guy out at home. I was fired up. But the next pitch, I noticed, I could not catch the ball. Upon taking off my glove, I looked at my thumb, and realized it had turned pink. After a ride over to the local hospital and an x-ray, it was confirmed that I broke my thumb, and I was sidelined for the entire season. As I was at the point in my life where I was at the cusp of fully observing the Sabbath, I decided this was a gentle nudge for me to make the leap towards full Sabbath observance.
Rabbi Noach Weinberg tells an amazing story of when he one time was encouraging a young man to spend some time in his Yeshiva in Jerusalem. The young man told him, “I don’t need to go to Yeshiva, because me and G-d are super close!” “Really,” asked a bemused Rav Noach– “if you wouldn’t mind indulging me, how do you know you are so close?” The boy replied that he was once riding his motor cycle up a windy mountain pass, and on a narrow hair-pin turn, a semi-truck was coming straight at him, in his lane. The boy instinctively veered to the right, plunging off the cliff. His bike came crashing down to the bottom of the cliff in a fiery blaze, and the boy reached up, and miraculously grasped on to a tree branch, which saved his life. The boy told Rav Noach, “that is how I know that G-d and I are super close.” Rav Noach replied, “That is an amazing story– and there is no doubt that G-d provided that miraculous tree for you. But who do you think sent you off the cliff in the first place?”
It is vital to point out that we have no right whatsoever, and no business conjecturing why unfortunate things happen to other people. But, it would behoove us to look inward when inconvenient, or unfortunate things come our way. It is not by chance they are coming to us, but for some Divinely crafted reason, unbeknownst to us. And while we are not prophets and do not really know, it would greatly benefit to do some soul searching, and brainstorm what possible messages there might be for us, or how we can grow from these experiences.
My Saba’s life was a fulfillment of this blessing: to let the blessings reach you. He retired from teaching at age 55, and went on to spend the next 35 years actively enjoying and cherishing every single aspect of his life. He cherished nature– the deer that roamed his back yard, and the majestic sunflower that grew on his patio. He was amazed by the humming birds, and fed them regularly. He cherished his family, taking excessive pride in them. He took nothing for granted, and was incredibly grateful for his lot in life.
I hope to carry on his legacy by similarly being in awe at the abundance of blessings I have been given. Hopefully, we can all cherish the myriad of blessings we are given, and by doing so, we will undoubtedly live happier, more fulfilled lives.