Parshas Ki Savo
Setting Realistic Goals
This week’s parsha, as do the next few parshiyot of the Torah as well,
combines in its text exalted hopes and blessed situations as well as dire
predictions and warnings of wretched events that will somehow all occur to
the Jewish people. There are wonderful blessings and predictions of
happiness and stability and unlimited success in the parsha. But there are
also almost unspeakably dire predictions of how close the Jewish people will
come to annihilation and disappearance in the future.
It is as though, so to speak, on the surface of the text, the Torah cannot
make up its mind regarding the Jewish future and destiny. And it must also
be noted that the Torah makes little provision in its statements for an
“ordinary” existence. It always seems to be an “all or nothing” situation
for the Jewish people – great moments of triumph and/or desperate times of
persecution, discrimination and potential destruction.
Part of the main unfulfilled hope of secular Zionism was to make the Jewish
people “normal” – to avoid the extreme swings of Jewish life and history.
But it is obvious that the State of Israel, the crowning achievement of
Zionism, has not succeeded in making us “normal.”
We are not Paraguay or Australia. In the short space of sixty-two years of
Israel’s as an independent sovereign nation - only a blink of an eye in
terms of history - it and the Jewish world has experienced soaring moments
of success and miraculous accomplishments as well as terrible times of
tension, pressures, fear and loss. Apparently this pattern is destined to
continue and it has truly been the hallmark of Jewish life over the past
century of our existence.
As the Torah indicates, the end of the pendulum we will be on is partially
dependent upon us - on our behavior and spiritual thoughts, plans and acts.
Just as the events of Jewish life always appear to us as being somewhat
extreme, so our goals and behavior are also judged in the extreme, so to speak.
We always have to aim high for ourselves - very high - when it comes to
matters of personal development, spiritual attainment and Torah observance.
The status quo is an unacceptable state of being in the matter of spirit and
tradition. A business that does not grow at least incrementally will surely
sink. The same is true for human beings in their spiritual growth.
This is essentially the message of Elul and the High Holy days now upon us –
the message of how to attain blessings. Even though spirituality and faith
exist in extremes, as I have pointed out above, all extremism must be
tempered by the recognition of one’s true self and capabilities. Reasonable
and reachable goals should always be our true agenda.
Religious life is not a sprint race. It is a long marathon requiring pace,
consistency, training and commitment. There will be a day of greatness and
tranquility for the Jewish people. So we are told by our prophets who have
never misled us. But we have to do our part to make that promise a reality.
Rabbi Berel Wein