Blessings and Curses come from within

Blessings and Curses come from within

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. -Thomas Jefferson

God prefaces many of His commandments with the line “when you enter the land,” meaning, many of these commandments need to wait until we’re in the Promised Land or are somehow dependent on the land itself. However, after one of these common introductions God goes on to give an unusually specific location and direction as to where the people of Israel should go and what they should do there.

He orders them to congregate at the twin mountains of Gerizim and Ebal next to the city of Shechem. There, in what turns out to be a massive natural amphitheatre, the assembled nation of Israel are to proclaim the blessings that will be accorded to themselves and their descendents should they listen to God’s commandments, as well as the curses that will befall them should they choose to ignore God’s directives. What is physically unusual about the setting is that although the two mountains are almost identical in their shape, size, location and elevation, Mount Gerizim is verdant and alive; Mount Ebal is barren and desolate. Not surprisingly, the blessings were uttered upon Mount Gerizim, the curses on Mount Ebal.

Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 11:29 elaborates:

“Both of them rise from the same soil, both are watered by the same precipitation – rain and dew. The same air passes over them both; the same pollen is blown over them both. Yet Ebal remains starkly barren, while Gerizim is covered with lush vegetation to its very top.”

“Thus we see that blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances. Hence, whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on the superficial conditions that are imposed upon us, but on how we deal with them – on our attitude…”

Whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on any outside force. Our fate doesn’t rely on good or bad luck. Happenstance should not determine our inner reality. The opposite is true. Our attitude, how we see the world, how we perceive things, how we react, how we internalize the reality around us, that will determine whether we are blessed or cursed. It is completely in our hands.

May we be grateful for the blessings in our lives and see it as such.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the tail end of summer. It is beautiful and blessed.

 

Size is Deceptive

Size is Deceptive

What we call little things are merely the causes of great things; they are the beginning, the embryo, and it is the point of departure which, generally speaking, decides the whole future of an existence. One single black speck may be the beginning of a gangrene, of a storm, of a revolution. -Henri Frederic Amiel

In Judaism’s vast array of commandments, there are many that we may consider “minor” relative to others that we may think of as more “important.”

It is curious that those definitions are often highly personal ones and invariably accurately reflect the commandments that people either feel more attached to or those they are more dismissive of.

The Torah itself does categorize some prohibitions as more severe than others in terms of the punishment for violating them. However, when it comes to the performance of commandments, Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 7:12 explains the problem with underestimating the value of any commandment we consider minor:

 “We are not to weigh each commandment separately in our minds, to consider which one might yield a greater reward than the others and should therefore be given particular priority and attention. The paths of the Law form ever-widening spheres that merge into one another. We cannot, at one glance, predict the results of the observance of any one commandment. The results mesh with one another, as it were, and the very commandment that would seem to us most insignificant and least important may have the most far-reaching effects.”

There are multiple stories as to how the observance of just one “minor” commandment led to life-altering benefits. Likewise, the converse is true. People who have been dismissive of even the “lightest” commandments have had cause to regret it. The commandments are part of an entire tapestry that weaves our lives into a whole spiritual reality. Each thread is important; each commandment that we can observe is part of the entire picture.

May we strengthen our commitment to even one “small” commandment.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the small, undisclosed acts of kindness that often go unnoticed and unmentioned.

 

The Foundation of Jewish Faith

The Foundation of Jewish Faith

If you don’t have solid beliefs you cannot build a stable life. Beliefs are like the foundation of a building, and they are the foundation to build your life upon. -Alfred A. Montapert

Perhaps the most well known verse to a Jew is the “Shma Yisrael.” A translation of it is as follows:

“Hear Israel, God is our God, God is One.” Deuteronomy 6:4

It is taught to children as soon as they can comprehend words. There is a biblical command to recite the paragraph of the “Shma” every morning and every night. It is the verse that is on the lips of martyrs and those who know they are about to die. It is the very foundation-stone of our faith and belief. Rabbi Hirsch elaborates further:

“It is the last truth that a son of Israel, mired in estrangement from his people, will discard. It is the declaration of the Jewish awareness of God’s unity, and it is logically followed by sentences intended to make the Jew aware of his life’s mission, of the objectives of his education, and of the true purpose of his endeavors, personal and public.”

“These statements encompass the basic principles that should guide his conduct, the axioms that should form the basis for all his thinking and the consecration of his domestic and communal life. They are intended to perform these functions no matter where the Jew may live and breathe, raise his children, carry on his domestic and public life; no matter where he lies down and rises up, readies his hands for action and his mind for thought; no matter where he builds his home and where he sets up his gates. That is why he must repeat all these statements to himself early and later, every day of his life.”

As opposed to a physical foundation which is built once, a spiritual foundation is something that we must review, rebuild and reinforce constantly. It is a critical aspect of our lives that we must strengthen on a daily basis, morning and night. For if our faith weakens, if the foundation of our spiritual lives is unstable, the edifice of our lives begin to crumble.

May we find the capacity and strength to build noble lives. Sometimes it’s as simple as reciting a meaningful “Shma.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the more than one thousand souls that ascended the Temple Mount as we commemorated its destruction. You console us.

Israel the Non-Imperialist

Israel the Non-Imperialist

Sovereignty over any foreign land is insecure. -Seneca the Elder

Historically, Israel was blessed with fearsome warriors. The ancient near east quaked in their sandals as the Children of Israel approached the borders of successive nations. There was the miraculous Exodus from Egypt and the Splitting of the Sea, which basically destroyed the mighty Egyptian empire.  Forty years later, there was the lightning-fast conquest of the lands of Sihon King of Emor and Og King of Bashan. The other nations learned that God was with Israel and that the new generation of Israelites was fearless.

However, what the non-Canaanite nations did not know was that God had given an express command for Israel not to attack the neighboring nations, not even to threaten them. This included not attacking Israel’s distant cousins, the Edomites, the Moabites and the Amonites.  Had Sihon and Og left Israel alone, if they would have let Israel pass through to Canaan peacefully, they too would have remained unscathed and unconquered.

Rabbi Hirsch (in the 1800s) on Deuteronomy 2:5 details:

“Israel is to take its place among the nations with a God-fearing respect for their possessions. Israel must not see itself as a nation of conquerors from whom no nation on earth will henceforth be safe. Rather, Israel must limit its military actions and prowess to the task of occupying that one sole land which God has intended for it and promised to it from the very outset of history.”

Israel has its Promised Land. Every other land is off-limits to Israel. Just as God assigned a particular land to the Jewish nation, so, too, He assigned other lands to other peoples. The Torah goes out of its way to detail the conquests of other lands that God facilitated for other nations.

There are people in the world who imagine that Israel has imperialistic designs or “Zionist plots.” Often these people and their theories are anti-semitically motivated and are disengaged both from reality, as well as from our very nature and founding as a people. In the end, they are either distorting reality for their own purposes or just clueless.

What we will fight for is to defend the land that God has finally returned us to, but we have no designs or interest in anyone else’s land.

May we remain steadfast in protecting our people and our land and may our enemies learn again to fear us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

In memory of the recent victims of terror. God will avenge their blood.

 

Unlimited Potential

Unlimited Potential 

The potential of the average person is like a huge ocean unsailed, a new continent unexplored, a world of possibilities waiting to be released and channeled toward some great good. -Brian Tracy

bamboos

Upon his very final moments of life, Moses delivers a prophetic poem, rich in imagery from nature. He calls upon the heavens and the earth as witnesses. He compares his words to rain and dew upon the vegetation.

The Sfat Emet in 5634 (1874) draws on the very first chapter of the Torah to understand the allegories better. When God created man, it says, He created man from the earth (Adama in Hebrew). God named man Adam, because he drew him forth from the earth. The earth represents pure potential. Untouched, the land will not give you anything. However, if you plow it, place seeds in the ground, and especially when you water it, the land will then produce fruit.

Man too, says the Sfat Emet, like the earth that he comes from, has untapped potential. But for man, the water is the oft-compared Torah. When a man drinks from the Torah, when he draws from the Torah, when he is irrigated with Torah, then he has the possibility of reaching his full potential and of bearing fruits that will be of eternal value.

May we have a thirst for Torah and drink deeply from it.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my beloved community of Uruguay.

Infinite Willpower

Infinite Willpower

People do not lack strength; they lack will.  -Victor Hugo

neo_spoonThe Talmud states that everything is in the hands of God except for the fear of God. This is translated to mean that we have free will. God controls everything in the world, every atom, every molecule, every action, every consequence. There is only one tiny corner of existence over which God does not exercise His Omnipotence. That is over our capacity to decide. We are born with the innate possibility to choose between good and evil. We have the human gift of electing to do the right thing or not to do the right thing.

The Sfat Emet in 5634 (1874) elaborates further on the topic. He mentions that we cannot accomplish anything without divine support. However, what we bring to the mix, the extent of our efforts, is that we need to bring our own “will” or “desire” to the table, along with what he calls an “awakening”. Presumably he is referring to some inner spiritual impetus, some realization of what we need to do, of what the right decision and subsequent action needs to be.

He expands even more and states that when we submit our “will/desire” and “awakening” for public benefit, there is nothing that God likes more.  He cherishes when we use our will, our faculties, our resources for public good. The probability of success is enhanced when we depart from selfish motivations and look out for a greater good.

May we harness our unlimited willpower for good.

Shabbat Shalom and Chatima Tova,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the leadership of Macabi Tzair for so seriously bringing Torah into their Latin American conference.

Distance versus Effort

Distance versus Effort

We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort. We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead. -William James

distant-mountainsThere are goals that appear as mirages in the distance. We say to ourselves that we can never reach them. It’s not even worth the effort. Were we to make a mathematical calculation as to how far we think our efforts can take us, of how much ground we can cover in a limited amount of time, we are likely to give up before we even began.

The Sfat Emet in 5631 (1871) makes a statement that doesn’t conform to the standard laws of physics. He speaks about the study of Torah, that most fundamental and vital of our daily obligations. He explains that if one sees a study goal that is far, perhaps unreachably so, but commences nonetheless, he affects a change on the space-time continuum. Suddenly, the goal is much closer than you ever imagined. The metaphysical intention changes the physical reality. Your goal will be within reach.

However, if we don’t even take the trouble to start, that noble goal will remain infinitely distant, forever beyond our reach, merely for lack of real effort.

May we plan, commence and pursue noble goals, as ambitious as they may be, and may we see them fulfilled rapidly and fully, with great benefit.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Shimon Peres.