TORAH FOR THE TIMES 
  

  

Torah Reading: ">R'ei, Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
Haftora: Isaiah 54:11 - 55:5

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 7:36 PM

Shabbat Ends: 8:37 PM 

Good Begets Good

 

When do the Blessings Begin?

The Torah portion of R’ei begins with the following declaration:

“Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the G‑d your G‑d, which I command you today, and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the G‑d your G‑d, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know.”

In these opening verses G‑d presents the people with a choice: either embrace the commandments and be blessed, or reject them and be cursed.

There is however, an apparent discrepancy as to when these blessings and curses would take effect.

In the opening verse the Torah makes it clear that G‑d has placed these blessings and curses “today.”

However, when we look at the next verse, we see that the blessings and the curses would only be administered in the future, after the people enter into the Promised Land and stand at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal:

And it will be, when the G‑d, your G‑d, will bring you to the land to which you come, to possess it, that you shall place those blessing upon Mount Gerizim, and those cursing upon Mount Ebal.

Are they not on the other side of the Jordan, way beyond, in the direction of the sunset, in the land of the Canaanites, who dwell in the plain, opposite Gilgal, near the plains of Moreh?

How can we reconcile this with the usage of the word “today” in the foregoing verse?

The Power of Blessings

One explanation given is that while the blessings and curses were actually pronounced at a much later date at the two Mountains, the power of the Mitzvah to generate a blessing and conversely, the power of sin to activate the curses actually came into existence when Moses declared “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.”

This approach is based on the following excerpt from the Midrash:

Rabbi Elazar said, ”From the moment when the Holy One, Blessed is He said this statement at Sinai, at that moment… evil and good shall not emanate from G‑d, rather, by itself evil befalls him who commit evil, and good comes to him who does good.”

[Commentators explain that Moses stated this verse in the 40th year in the desert, whereas the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai occurred in the very first year they were in the desert. Nevertheless, he refers to these blessings and curses as having been given at Sinai because everything that Moses spoke about throughout his 40 years in the desert was originally given at Sinai.]

One understanding of this Midrash is that reward and punishment prior to the declaration of Moses on that day was meted out by G‑d measure for measure like any punishment in society, whereby a person commits a crime and is sentenced to prison. The crime did not create the prison. It was society’s reaction to the crime. When a person serves another for pay, the service did not create the money. It is merely a response to the effort.

However, from that day onward, when Moses declared “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse,” reward and punishment are actually created by our own actions, good or bad.

When a person performs a Mitzvah, the Torah gives it the power to generate positive spiritual energy, which then converts into positive physical energy and, conversely, evil doings beget negative consequences

Thus, when the Torah states “The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the G‑d your G‑d,” the meaning is that the blessing is heeding G‑d’s commandments, because the material blessing is contained within the fulfillment of G‑d’s will.

This echoes the words of Ethics of the Fathers: “The reward for the Mitzvah is the mitzvah and the reward for the transgression is the transgression.” That means that the positive effect of the Mitzvah is actually subsumed within the Mitzvah and conversely the negative result is subsumed within the transgression.

And this, then, is the meaning of the word “today” in the foregoing verse.

That day was the moment when this new dynamic entered into creation.

We must try to understand two things:

First, why did this dynamic not exist before Sinai, when people committed crimes or performed Mitzvos?

Second, if reward and punishment is so automatic, why do so many righteous people fail to see the natural benefits of their good deeds, and why do so many evil people not suffer the negative results of their misdeeds?

Pre and Post Sinai Dynamics

The answer can be derived by considering what Sinai accomplished. G‑d did not just give us a set of laws to live by. G‑d actually created a merger between Heaven and Earth. The physical and spiritual entities were no longer going to be isolated into their respective patterns or behave like two parallel lines that can never meet. This, in fact, was the prevailing reality before Sinai.

Thus, prior to Sinai, when one performed a Mitzvah it did not have an impact on the physical world in a way that it would automatically generate a positive physical outcome.

From Sinai onward, however, the potential for a natural cause and effect relationship between the physical and spiritual came into existence.  Once the Torah was given, the possibility of a synthesis between positive spiritual energy and positive physical energy was unleashed and made possible.

Sinai, however, was just the beginning of a process. The Revelation at Mount Sinai made the mountain itself holy. Once the Divine presence withdrew, the mountain was no longer holy and the world did not feel the same Divine presence it felt as before. What was left was the beginning of a long process of transforming the physical into the G‑dly and the potential to make that process complete. Sinai inaugurated an incremental process whereby every Mitzvah we do makes the relationship between the physical and spiritual tighter and will only be complete with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

Until that moment, which we hope, pray and believe is imminent, there are people, times and places where that reciprocal relationship between the physical and the spiritual work hand in hand. These people are the tsaddikim in every generation whose blessings materialize.  These times are the period of the prophets and the era of the Bais Hamikdash.  The places are the Bais Hamikdash and other holy sites.

While we have been in forced exile, that symbiotic relationship between the two worlds has undergone some strain.  It will only be completely repaired with the Final Redemption.

Alternate Translations of “Hayom”

This may also tie in with the alternate translations of the word “today” in our verse.

Last week’s essay mentioned that the word “today” can also mean “as clear as the day” and “the Messianic Era” and that the two meanings are intertwined.

The Torah can thus be read as stating: “Behold, I set before you today [in the Messianic Era, when the relationship between the spiritual and the physical will no longer be clouded, “clear as the day”] a blessing…”

In that blessed era, the power of our positive actions to beget positive results will no longer be compromised.