by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
In this week's reading, G-d promises His blessings if we follow in His
ways, and, may we see no more, curses if we do not.
Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra questions why the curses are so much longer than
the blessings. There are eleven verses of blessing, while the section of
curses is three times as long. This is strange, especially because we find
throughout Jewish thought that G-d's attribute of goodness is stronger
than any attribute of punishment.
The Tosefes Bracha provides an insightful answer. The good must be said
briefly, he says, because if anything is missing from it, then it is no
longer so good. Meaning, if a person is wealthy he is in a "good"
situation, but if he is ill you can no longer call his situation "good."
If he has both wealth and health, but has not been blessed with children,
than once again his circumstances are no longer entirely "good." And if he
has children, but they are rebellious and have nothing to do with him,
again it's not good. So whenever "good" is specified, it must be fulfilled
in its entirety.
When it comes to misfortune, just the opposite is true. Even a single
misfortune is bad, and piling one upon another simply makes matters worse.
If an impoverished person is also sick, his misfortune is still greater
than if he suffered only one or the other.
So this is the reason, says the Tosefes Bracha, that the blessings are
stated briefly: for if there is any deviation from them, then the blessing
is defective and not truly good. When any type of blessing is specified,
there is an expectation that it will be fulfilled -- and if it is not,
then the person feels the lack of that particular type of blessing, and
the "good" is missing. But on the negative side, one bad thing can be
piled upon the other without limit, and thus the curses can be stated at
The truth of the matter is that no one is entirely blessed in this world.
There isn't a person on the planet who has nothing to worry about.
This being the case, a person cannot escape from worry by building a
successful business, exercising daily, or by consulting the best of
psychotherapists. The only thing one can do is develop trust in G-d.
Religion is hardly an "opiate" -- but a religious outlook is necessary for
true satisfaction to be possible.
One of the most fundamental concepts in Jewish thought is that G-d cares
about each individual, and creates a situation for him or her which is in
fact ideal -- not ideal as in relaxed or free from worries, but ideal for
spiritual growth. This is true no matter how it might appear to our eyes,
and therefore our situation is "good" after all. Whatever the test is, we
can pass it and grow in the process.
The only thing we must do, then, is realize that this is true. Spiritual
giants are capable of suffering even the worst of situations with a smile
and true satisfaction with their station in life. That is a treasure worth
far more than a vault full of diamonds -- and one which all of us can hope
to unearth within ourselves!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
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