Torah Fax

Friday, September 2, 2005 - 28 Menachem Av, 5765
Torah Reading: R’ei (Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17)
Candle Lighting time: 7:08 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:07 PM
Pirkei Avot: chapter 5
We bless the New Month of Elul

Level Playing Field
This week's Parshah of R'ei opens with the statement: "behold I set before you today a blessing and a curse; the blessing, that you shall listen to the commandments of the L-rd your G‑d… and the curse, if you shall not listen to the commandments…"
At first glance, the entire latter phrase, "and the curse…" is superfluous. Once the Torah tells us that blessings will come as a result of hearkening to G‑d's voice, doesn't it follow that curses will come when we do not follow his commandments?
In addition, commentators observe that the Torah does not employ the same terminology for the curses as it does for the blessings. With regard to the blessings, the Torah says, "Asher Tishme'un, that you will listen." With respect to the curses, however, the Torah says, "Im lo, If you will not listen." Why doesn't the Torah use the same phrase? With regard to the blessings, the Torah could have just as easily written, "Im, If you will listen," since the blessings are indeed contingent on our fulfillment of the Mitzvahs.
Upon deeper analysis, it becomes evident that G‑d treats the blessings entirely differently than the curses. G‑d promises us the blessings almost automatically, knowing that the Jewish people, by their very nature, will want to fulfill the commandments. Thus G‑d says "asher, when" you will fulfill the commandments… In other words, He is not making the blessings contingent on the possibility that the Jews might fulfill His commands, but is rather guaranteeing those blessings, since their obedience of His Mitzvahs is a given.
The curses, however, are introduced with the word "Im, if," as it to say, "on the off chance that some people might sway from the proper path, there will be negative consequences." G‑d doesn't anticipate any negative behavior from the Jewish people, but in case that might happen, he is "forced," so to speak, to describe the consequences of those actions - the curses.
In truth, our tradition discusses two distinct types of blessings. One form of blessing is offered as an incentive to facilitate our doing the correct act. Secondly, once we have chosen the right path and fulfilled the Mitzvah, G‑d continues to bless us as a way of furthering our observance of the Mitzvot.
This is in consonance with Maimonides' explanation of the material rewards described in the Torah. According to Maimonides, the wonderful crops and rains that we are promised for fulfilling the commandments are not the true reward for the commandments at all - that reward will be given to us in the World To Come. When the Torah promises us worldly benefits for keeping the Mitzvot, it is because G‑d wants to inspire us to do even more Mitzvot. The more prosperity we enjoy, the more Mitzvot we will be able to comfortably fulfill.
From here we can learn an important lesson about the dynamics of good and evil. While some philosophers and teach that blessing is the consequence for doing good just as curses are just dessert of an evildoer, Judaism rejects that approach. Good and evil are not merely two opposite halves of one whole - equal measures of opposite experiences being doled out to their respective recipients in parallel universes. True, curses are the sad consequence of negative human acts, but blessings are given by G‑d even before the Mitzvah is fulfilled, in anticipation of its observance. G‑d uses good as a facilitator to inspire positive deeds in advance of their fulfillment. Furthermore, G‑d generates even more blessing after the fulfillment of a Mitzvah to help bring about the fulfillment of even more good deeds.
Thus, while evil is a finite product of human initiative, good is created and activated by G‑d, and is thus imbued with infinite energy.
This appreciation of the fundamental difference between good and evil can also help us understand a question that has been raised about the Rebbe's statement that the arrival of Moshiach is imminent and that we are standing on the threshold of the redemption. Many ask how it could be that we will merit such an event when our forbears, who were much holier than we, did not succeed in bringing about this great event.
One answer that has been given is that good and holy acts are permanent. Thus, the positive deeds of earlier generations are still here with us and that historical accumulation of goodness, in addition to the good that our generation has accomplished, has reached the point where it can actualize the redemption. Evil, on the other hand, being, as we said merely an outcome of limited human endeavor, is fleeting and ephemeral. Thus any misdeeds of earlier times have no cumulative effect on our generation and on our ability to actualize the redemption.
Moshiach Matters
Before his passing, Jacob said to his children, "Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days." Jacob wished to reveal the date of the Messianic redemption. One could also read this in the sense of "he wished to reveal, i.e., manifest and bring about, the end." In this context there is an important moral for every Jew. We are to follow in the footsteps of our ancestor, and wish and pray for the manifestation of the ultimate end of the exile. (Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe)
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