In this week’s parsha the Torah continues with the theme that runs through
the previous parshiyot of Dvarim, that we are always faced with stark
choices in life – either blessings or curses, good or evil. The words of the
Torah seemingly offer little option for middle ground on these basic issues
of belief and behavior. Yet, we are all aware that the events in life are
rarely, if ever, all or nothing, one hundred percent blessing or curse. In
fact, Jewish tradition and teachings instruct us that hidden in tragedy
there is always a glimmer of hope and goodness, and that all joy and
happiness contains within it the taste of the bittersweet.
Jewish philosophy and theology has taught us that evil somehow has a place
in God’s good and benign world. We are faced with the problem of why the
Torah addresses these matters without nuance, in such a harsh way which
seemingly brooks no compromise, without a hint of a middle ground. After
all, the Torah is not a debating society where one is forced to take an
extreme uncompromising stand in order to focus the issue being discussed
more sharply and definitively.
Many rabbinic scholars of previous generations have maintained that it is
only in our imperfect, post Temple period that we are to search for good in
evil and temper our joy with feelings of seriousness and even sadness. But
in the ideal and idyllic world, where the Divine Spirit is a palpable
entity, the choices are really stark and the divisions are 100 percent to zero.
Far be it from me to not accept the opinion of these great scholars of
Israel. However I wish to interject a somewhat different thought into this
matter. This parsha begins with the word re’eih – see. As all of us are well
aware, there are stages in life that we can see well only with the aid of
corrective lenses. Without that correction, we can easily make grave
mistakes trying to read and see what appears before us.
If we have to read small print, such as looking up a number in the Jerusalem
telephone directly – it is almost impossible without the aid of corrective
lenses. Well, this situation is not limited to the physical world, of just
our actual eyesight, but it applies equally to our spiritual world of Torah
observance and personal morality.
Many times we think we are behaving righteously when we are in fact behaving
badly because we are not seeing the matter correctly. We are not wearing our
corrective lenses, with the benefit of halacha, history, good common sense
and a Jewish value system that should govern our lives. Without this
advantage, we see blessings and curses, good and evil, all blurry and
undefined before our eyes.
The Torah wishes us to see clearly - to instinctively be able to recognize
what is the blessing in our life and what is not. The Torah itself has been
kind enough to provide us with the necessary corrective lenses to see
clearly and accurately. These lenses consist of observance of Torah and its
commandments and loyalty to Jewish values and traditions.
Rabbi Berel Wein