13 Aug 2020 Parshas Re’eh – Choose Life
This week’s parsha, Parshas Re’eh, opens with: רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם—הַיּוֹם: בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה – See, I (Moshe) present before you today a blessing and a curse; אֶת–הַבְּרָכָה—אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְעוּ, אֶל–מִצְות ה’ אלקיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם, The blessing that you listen to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, that I command you today; And the curse: if you do not listen to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow the gods of others, that you did not know (Devarim 11:26-28).
This passage is very evocative of a similar one that appears later in the book of Devarim: רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם, אֶת–הַחַיִּים וְאֶת–הַטּוֹב, וְאֶת–הַמָּוֶת, וְאֶת–הָרָע – See, I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil… הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם, אֶת–הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת–הָאָרֶץ—הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה; וּבָחַרְתָּ, בַּחַיִּים—לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה, אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ – I call the heavens and the earth today to bear witness against you: I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring (Devarim 30:15,19).
Putting these two passages together, we can conclude that as Jews, we are constantly faced with choices in life. We can choose Torah, mitzvos, maasim tovim, an all encompassing life of godliness; and then we have chosen בְּרָכָה ,חַיִּים ,טּוֹב, blessing, life and good for ourselves. Or, R”L (may the Almighty have mercy upon us), one can choose the other way, and the Torah delineates that this leads to an existence (or non-existence) of קְלָלָה, מָּוֶת, רָע – curse, death and evil.
There is a beautiful homiletic interpretation on the opening words of our parsha: “רְאֵה אָנֹכִי – see me!” Moshe Rabbeinu was saying to the Bnei Yisrael, and to us, “See ME.” See what a person can become, the levels one can reach, the spiritual accomplishments one can attain, when he chooses life: the bracha of a life dedicated to Torah and mitzvos.
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “The recital of the bracha (Birkas Ha’Torah) in the morning suffices for the whole day and also for the night study, whereas other birkos ha’mitzvos are canceled by hesech ha’daas (distraction from the act at hand). If I should take off my tefillin for a while not intending to put them back soon, and then I change my mind and I want to put the tefillin on, it requires another bracha. However, reciting Birkas Ha’Torah in the morning relieves me of the duty of reciting the bracha (over Torah study) for twenty-four hours.”
Why is this so?
“Tosfos (Brachos 11b) note this difficulty and explain that there is hesech ha’daas with regard to other mitzvos but not with regard to Torah for we are duty bound to study (it) all the time. It is difficult to understand the answer… Why shouldn’t one recite the Birkas Ha’Torah if he is ready to read the Torah after a long intermission during which he has not even thought of engaging in the study of the Torah?
“… We understand the answer of Tosfos when we realize that Birkas Ha’torah is related not to the explicit intellectual preoccupation, which is not continuous, but to the emotional consecration and involvement associated with a state of mind, with love for and devotion to the Word – and this involvement is a permanent, continuous experience which cannot be interrupted or canceled. Of course, emotional involvement sometimes is an acute experience, an explosive experience – I think of my great treasure and my heart overflows with love – and sometimes it is a latent experience; however, this love can never be extinguished.
“Let us take our relationship to children. There is certainly emotional involvement with children, devotion, but you cannot say that experience is at all times identical. Sometimes it is an acute experience, when I play with the child, when my heart overflows with love for the child, I experience an explosive feeling which demonstrates itself in some external traits, like an expression of my face and so forth. It is an acute experience. And frequently, when the father is in his office or in his shop and his mind is occupied with matters, it loses its acuteness and explosiveness and turns into a latent feeling. Yet he can never forfeit its greatness and depth.
“This is exactly my relationship to Torah. The emotional involvement is a continuous experience, sometimes in an acute stage, sometimes in a latent stage, in an inactive stage. Yes, sometimes the acute experience is sharp with passion, and overabundant feelings, and sometimes, under other circumstances, it is a quiet experience; when the mind is occupied with other matters it loses its acuteness and explosiveness and turns into latent feeling. Yet the father can never forget the child and can never stop loving the child, and this is exactly valid with reference to Torah. The emotional attachment (to Torah) is never broken” (Blessings and Thanksgiving, p.55-56).
A grandson of R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’l (1914-2017) once asked him, “Sabba, why don’t you go away for a few days to rest and improve your health?” R’ Aharon Leib smiled and replied, “I feel healthy enough without going on vacation! Learning Taharos in depth… is far more enjoyable than any vacation. As for rest, I’ll rest in Shomayim after 120.”
Rav Shteinman’s talmid, R’ Yitzchak Levenstein, once made arrangements for the Rosh Yeshiva to stay in a room in a yeshiva outside Bnei Brak for a few days of respite. When he heard of the plan, R’ Aharon Leib smiled and said, “Yitzchak, I appreciate your good intentions. If you want to do me a real favor, perhaps arrange a bein ha’zmanim kollel. I would be willing to give a shiur to the avreichim at the conclusion of each day. The harbatzas ha’Torah would make me feel far better than any vacation! (Reb Aharon Leib, Artscroll, p.286).
“רְאֵה אָנֹכִי, See me”, Moshe Rabbeinu exhorts us. Choose a life of Torah – of unwavering devotion and emotional attachment to Torah and mitzvos – and see what a person, a mere mortal, can achieve and become. Halavay that we might merit but a fraction of such greatness, as we choose life every day.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,