See I place before you today blessing and curse. The blessing if you listen to the Mitzvos of HASHEM your G-d that I am commanding you today and the curse if you do not obey the Mitzvos of HASHEM your G-d and you turn from the path that I am commanding you today… (Devarim 11:26-28)
Moshe is speaking not only to the generation of Jews that stood before him at that time but he is giving a message directly to we who have arrived here in the 21st century, as well. The Torah is not a history book. It speaks to us contemporaneously. Moshe says, “See I place before you today blessing and curse…”, and the word “today” means “today”.
So how do we see the blessing and the curse “today”. Where is this currently evident? Where is our Har Grizim, which, through its flowering appearance, displays the blessed path and Har Eivil which, with its desolate look represents the cursed approach?! Is this merely an abstract concept that needs to be internalized with some symbolic representation or is it a concrete reality!?
Since Moshe uttered these prophetic words 3300 years ago a lot of history has transpired. Jews who are around today as Jews are the near descendants of people who had been loyal to Torah. There is a slow disassembling process for those who have lost touch with Torah Living even if they continue to cherish Jewish sentiments. It may take a few generations to devolve but there is a certain conclusion for anyone who does not remain loyally obedient to the Torah.
The odd reality is that most are blissfully unaware that this is happening. Not much thought is given to a Jewish future until it is almost too late and then in many cases it is sadly too late.
It’s truly tragic! The ball is marched down field 3700 years from Avraham Avinu only to be fumbled or willfully forfeited on the 1 yard line of history, but how is one to know it’s the one yard line without familiarity with Torah and the rules of engagement. It may explain why so many who faced with a choice of extinction or distinction have nobly chosen to become Baalei Teshuva and return to a Torah way of Life.
Here is a small slice of American Jewish history. The Talmud tells us that Torah is compared to water. Water catalyzes life. A community cannot survive physically if there is no water source. It can’t happen! It’s quite amazing to take note of the many communities that popped up across the fruited plain that do not exist today. Even if they had a large population at some time, they faded over time.
I have visited many old empty synagogues. There on the wall are the pictures of the handsome and dedicated individuals who were their officers. What happened? Why is the building an empty shell housing lonely Sifre Torah for the last few surviving members? At one point there were 500 Orthodox Synagogues in the Bronx but most are gone now and the few remaining places are struggling. What happened? No water! Water brings blessing!
A Shul is beyond wonderful, but it is not sufficient. Pardon my crude analogy but I believe it can be helpful here. If there is good Shul in a neighborhood it’s like having a gas station nearby where you can refuel. That’s nice. If, in that Shul, they learn a few Mishnayos between Mincha and Maariv, then it’s like there is gas station that offers a 20 minute lube job. If there is a learned Rabbi who knows how to answer Hallachic questions, then it’s like a gas station with a sign “mechanic on premises”. Some cars can be repaired and get an even longer life with each of these features.
However, where there is a Yeshiva, a Torah learning center, and there are scholars that are learning and teaching and students that are learning with excellence, then it’s like living in one of those cities that produces new cars. Every graduating class of boys and girls mean brand new cars rolling off the proverbial assembly line. With fresh enthusiasm new generations are launched. Cottage industries arise like Kashrus, Mikvos, Shuls, and more Yeshivos to service all ages and interests in Torah. The city comes alive with blessedness!
Those cities that not only survived but have thrived over many decades here in America had this reservoir of living waters that was created by the study of Torah. This catalyzes life and it continues to produce the blessing.