Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Blessed Life

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha of Re’eh opens with Moshe Rabbeinu telling the Jewish people that he is presenting them with two divergent paths, one of blessing and one of damnation.

The parsha is named Re’eh, which means see. Moshe told the Jews, “Re’eh anochi nosein lifneichem hayom bracha uklalah - Look, I am presenting before you today blessing and curse.”

Moshe tells the Bnei Yisroel that the path of blessing is reached by following the precepts of Hashem. Those who don’t listen end up on the accursed path.

Why does Moshe use the word “look,” when essentially he is asking them to hearken to what he is about to tell them? He wasn’t asking them to look; he was asking them to listen.

There are always people who feel as if the laws of the Torah confine them. They think that if they revolt against the precepts with which Hashem created the heaven and earth, they will be happier and more successful. They think that if they behave dishonestly and immorally, their lives will be satisfying.

Such people leave the path of the blessed, looking for the bounty this world has to offer, but all they end up with is damnation. Such people are never happy as they slither down the road of everything illicit in the elusive search for happiness.

They never find it.

Kids go astray because they feel crammed in by all the rules. They find themselves on a slippery slope of failure, and when they hit bottom, they realize that it was all for naught. They finally recognize that joy is not achieved by throwing off the shackles and being in a constant state of vertigo. By then, however, they are so far gone that it takes years of attentive effort for them to return to normalcy.

Moshe Rabbeinu tells the Jewish people that the path to happiness is by following the word of Hashem. In case they doubted him, he said to them, “Look at the people who follow in Hashem’s way and you will undoubtedly see the joy of fulfillment on their faces. Look at the people who are scrupulous in their personal conduct and you will observe people who are content. Look at the people who hew to the path of the Torah and you will see people who are living blessed lives.

“Look at the people who cheat their way through the day, look at the people who run their businesses crookedly, and I will show you people who live rotten lives. Look at the people who throw off the manacles of decency and you will see people who live lives of misery. Look at the people who think that the laws of the Ten Commandments weren’t made for them and you will see people who spend their entire lives desperately craving for an inner peace they will never find.”

Re’eh anochi nosein lifneichem hayom bracha uklalah.” I am setting forth for you today the word of Hashem. Look around and you will be able to see who is a follower and who isn’t, who leads a blessed life and who leads a cursed life.

The words of Moshe hold true until this very day. So often, we see people who are so unhappy, that no matter how large their house, how luxurious their car, and how extravagant a lifestyle they lead, they will always be groping for more.

The blessed life is not led by the guy with the most money; it is lived by the fellow who uses the gifts G-d has endowed him with for the betterment of others. The person who distributes charity to the poor, supports schools and yeshivos so that they can better educate future generations, helps feed the hungry and comforts the sick, is the one who achieves true fulfillment. This will never be known to the person who remains deaf to the entreaties of the needy and dedicates his fortune to his own personal aggrandizement.

Those who follow the path laid out by the Torah possess a glow that emanates from within their souls and a radiation of contentment that can only be acquired by living a life guided by eternal truths.

Total satisfaction is never achieved with the temporal. No matter how much money people have, the amount of designer clothing they amass, combined with the jewelry they have stashed away in their safe, will not make them happy. For money and material possessions are temporary, and just as they are temporary, so is the joy that is derived from them. A new car, watch or pin may bring a smile to your face for a day or two, but when you return to reflect on your empty life, the purposelessness, boredom, and feelings of inadequacy will return.

The Alter of Novardok was once taking a walk with a talmid when two seemingly blissful teenagers crossed their path. The Alter turned to the talmid and said, “Look at those two, do you think they are happy? They are in fact quite pathetic.”

He explained by way of a moshol. “Picture a wealthy person who lost his money. His business is falling apart, his checks are bouncing, the banks are coming after him for outstanding loans, there is a lien on his house and his wife has left him. But a person is bound to the laws of nature and must eat. So this person whose world is crashing down upon him enters a restaurant and sits down to his favorite meal. It smells wonderful and tastes great, and in fact he enjoys it. But is the man happy when he sits there eating the sumptuous meal?

“So too, this youngster who chats and giggles so amicably. He has trouble at home, and at work and even as he walks here with his friend, those issues are not far from his mind, he can’t let go of them. He also isn’t so sure of his friend’s loyalty to him and can’t really open up to him about his problems for fear that the friendship will wilt.
“So, is he really happy?

“But do you know who I knew who was truly happy and satisfied? Rav Yisroel Salanter. He was at peace with himself. He was at peace with Hashem. His joy emanated from his inner core. Every mitzvah he did brought him added happiness. Every one of his actions brought him added satisfaction.”

Moshe Rabbeinu was standing there in the Midbar telling the Bnei Yisroel that every one of them - and us - is able to attain true happiness. A life of blessing is available to every person who dedicates himself to following the words of Hashem. Nobody should feel that their financial situation in life affects their happiness and capacity to lead a blessed life.

In Parshas Va’eschanon (4:5), as well, Moshe Rabbeinu uses the word “re’eh” to convey to the Jewish people that if they follow the Torah, they will earn the praise of the nations of the world. Perhaps it is for the same reason that we’ve discussed. Moshe is telling the Bnei Yisroel that if they follow the chukim and mishpatim, their neighbors will recognize them for their wisdom and say, “Rak am chochom venavon hagoy hagadol hazeh.” When the Jews follow the laws of the Torah, their neighbors are able to look at them and recognize that they are a G-dly and intelligent people.

It is not by kowtowing to the constantly shifting culture of the time that we earn the respect of the people who surround us. It is not by watering down our customs so that we can blend in better that we gain the veneration of our neighbors. It is not by promoting and honoring people who have engaged in activities forbidden by the Torah that we will be admired by others. It is only by following the instructions of the immortal and timeless Torah as handed down to us from generation to generation that the nations of the world will realize what sets us apart from everyone else.

The novi Yeshayahu (61:9) reinforces this idea when he foretells that the Jewish people and their children will achieve prominence among the nations and all who see them will recognize them as the seed that Hashem has blessed.

May that prophecy be realized speedily and in our day.


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