May 28, 2024
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Parashat Re’eh opens with: “See I have put before you today a blessing and a curse.” The Sforno (Shemot 20:15) explains that wherever the Torah uses the term “see” and it cannot refer to physical sight, it connotes to ponder and contemplate (i.e. to see with one’s mind). However, we can ask how much contemplation does one need to recognize the difference between blessing and curse.

In Devarim, 11:10–12, the Torah relates that Hashem informs the Jewish people that Eretz Yisrael is different than Eretz Mitzrayim, in so far that in Egypt there was a plentiful and consistent water supply due to the cyclical overflowing of the Nile River, whereas in Eretz Yisrael there exists no such water source and it is totally dependent on rain for water for drinking and agriculture. At first glance, this seems to denigrate Eretz Yisrael.

Similarly, the original snake was cursed that it would eat dust all its life. One opinion in the Gemara is that this means that the food supply of the snake would be readily available to it at all times in all places, just as the dust is everywhere. This does not seem to be a curse. Conversely, the Jewish people in the desert were blessed with one day’s food supply, unable to save even a crumb of manna for the next day.

The understanding of this enigma became apparent to me after the following incident. A 17-year-old boy was brought to me who had attempted to commit suicide. When I asked him what drove him to be so depressed that he wanted to end his life, he told me the following: “My mother abandoned me when I was an infant and my father, a wealthy man, raised me. Recently, my father met a woman he wanted to marry but she stipulated that she would only agree to get married if I was not in the picture. So, my father called me in and gave me keys to an apartment he bought for me, keys to a car he bought for me and a credit card in his name with which I could buy food, and other necessities and luxuries. He then told me it was nice knowing me but that this was the end of our relationship, ‘don’t visit, don’t call – goodbye!’” Although the boy had all the material amenities that any other teenager would crave, they all represented total rejection. That is the curse of the snake—plenty of food but no relationship with God. The Jewish people—not much food but the knowledge that they have a Father in Heaven who gives them their food every day. Similarly, God put Egypt on a “Shabbos clock,” the Nile, but does not have a personal connection to the it, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, rain, the Talmud tells us, is a commodity that God provides directly and not through any agent.

If one is looking for material gain, then he may think Egypt and the snake were blessed and Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish people were cursed. However, if a close relationship with God is what is important, one realizes that Egypt and the snake were in fact cursed, and Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish people richly blessed. Hence one needs to reflect, ponder and contemplate blessing and curse to determine their true nature.

Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matityahu, and a renowned author, lecturer and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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