“Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing if you will heed the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today: and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know.”
There is an old saying in sports that there is a huge difference between watching the bullfight and being in the ring. A person walking by a swimming pool and hearing a man yelling at a teenager might think the adult is acting abusively. But if he knew that the youth is committed to becoming a champion athlete, the spectator’s perspective changes to appreciation of the coach’s discipline. These verses above from this week’s parsha are not threats promises, but a “coach” explaining the simple realities if what happens if you or do not behave in a certain way…in this case, in observance of God’s instructions.
Every competitive athlete understands the concept of short-term pain in order to achieve long term success. We must follow the rigors of training if we want to achieve our goals, and the quickest path to failure is to ignore the requirements necessary. Parents teach their children this same value, and in this Torah portion we see that God is the ultimate “coach” for our souls.
God is not bribing or threatening us in the text. Like any good coach he is making it clear that one path leads to success and joy while the other leads to failure and sadness. He reminds us here that living a mitzvah-observant life manifests untold blessings, and that those blessings are absent without the observance. We are to remember that mitzvot are the training practices that will lead to our success and happiness.
Living in harmony with God’s commandments is not a “pick-and-choose” process. The more that we observe them, the easier it is for each of us to experience the blessings of God’s promise. That does not mean that we all have to observe all the commandments or we are “bad” and “cursed”, God forbid. But it does mean that it is only through really integrating the teachings of our coach (God) that we can fully experience all the benefits that both He and we are seeking in our lives.
“Am Yisrael Chai”, the people of Israel will always live. But for us to thrive, we must each take on more mitzvot and heed the guidance of the ultimate coach. May we all find the blessings of success by passionately embracing the spiritual training we have been given.
Kavannah: As we have done already in prior weeks, take on a new mitzvah this week that you haven’t done. Try wrapping tefillin, or at least saying the morning prayers. Take the advice of Rebbe Nachman and go into nature as the first action of your day, before you even do your morning prayers or rituals. Keep your head covered all week as a reminder of God’s presence always being above you. (If you’re uncomfortable with wearing a yarmulke, at least wear a ball cap each day and remember that this too counts as a head covering.) Take on a new spiritual obligation for the week as a way of surrendering to God, the Supreme spiritual coach.
Rabbi Michael Barclay
August 25th, 2022
28th of Av, 5782