What’s up my Hebrews and Shebrews? My He-bros, if you will. (Thank you Michael for that awesome word.) I am gonna get heavy this time around, but I promise it will get better towards the end. Please wade through the darkness, for “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Thank you Zach for bringing this beautiful psalm to my attention.
It is so easy to feel cursed nowadays. You turn on the news and the world is falling apart. Personal and national debt keeps getting bigger and bigger. Ashton Kutcher is on Two and a Half Men; like I said, we are definitely cursed.
But why, you must be asking yourself: What did I do?
What did we do? If you want to know the answer, scroll down….
I don’t know; I am just a guy in grad school.
But the truth is no one does, save for the big guy. For thousands and thousands of years, people have given answers – people far wiser then I. After all, I am not a Rabbi, (I am inclinded to say it now once a post), but I have read a lot. The Book of Job provides tons of explanations, but none are that great, aside from ‘Just listen to the guy in the whirlwind.’ The Book of Tobit provides similar answers, but in a much more ‘Rockstar’ fashion; angels, demons, magical fish, and wayward bird droppings all factor into this apocryphal work to heal and renew one pious man with a very sucky life. Augustine had his whole original sin/Eve ate an apple explanation, but he stole an apple as a child and had problems with women as an adult, so … yeah. No disrespect, Augustine is my man, and I will bring him back later, but does anyone have an answer? Even Moses, in this week’s parshah, gives some advice too:
Vahayah Ki Tavo El Ha’Aretz - And it will be, when you come into the land…
And then Moses tells us… (http://www.chabad.org/parshah/torahreading.asp?AID=36238&p=complete)
… all the reasons God will love us and all the ways that we will be blessed. At this point in the reading, you are ecstatic. Break open the Johnnie Walker Red Label (which I just found out is Kosher, so I guess its Yonaton Vaqer)! Make it rain up in this bayit (Hebrew for house)! Awesome.
But then there are the curses. Curses for anyone who can’t uphold the law, and there are A LOT of laws. That’s the covenant: keep the laws and you are blessed, ignore them and you are cursed (at least the Mosaic one, God has a whole other thing going on with David and Abraham, and don’t even get me started on Jesus).
So what to do? Perfect your knowledge and action and hope for the best? It’s a good plan, the recommended plan in fact, but what about those of us who are weak of will? I know that I, the Rockstar Rabbi, am incredibly weak of will. I admit it here and now, loud and echoing throughout the caverns of the Inter-webs: I AM WEAK.
I don’t think I am alone though. Augustine’s whole thing was that he was weak, and he knew it. He would call out: God, grant me grace, but not yet! Same with Paul and the author of the Psalms. Nobody is perfect. If you know someone who is, please call me so I can alert the media and get them working on solving all those aforementioned problems.
So what do we do when Psalm 86:7 might not help? You are an imperfect person who needs to be perfect. Life sucks; What to do? This is where the whole theodicy (Latin meaning Justice of God) falls apart. Which is when wise men stop answering and try and give comfort.
Now you don’t have to read these next two articles I have linked, even though they are very good ways of dealing with the paradox of God and suffering. You don’t even need to read the part that says MY THEODICY in big bold letters.
What I do need you to do is watch the third link that I have starred. I do realize the irony that if this was am an actual Shabbat sermon I couldn’t actually show you it, but I would tell you it with my heart open and such passion, because I found it to be so moving.
Brilliant article: Sometimes the bad is good and the good is unknown to you.
But I am young and brash and impetuous – so let’s face it- some times life sucks and no amount of Chabad article will help that. Okay, maybe one more…
“The sweetest fruits go bitter in our mouths feeling the need of our brethren.”
The passage also talks on the first fruits and he has a lot of good points on it: http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/169125/jewish/Jewish-Joy.htm
I know that this week’s parshah says you need to stone those who break the commandments, but one needs to understand the context of this within the narrative. These were a people so close to God at this moment and time that they literally could not take it. They were surrounded and infused and all encompassed by God’s presence. Thus, they had no excuse for their actions then. The world as it is now is different; it needs to be healed. It needs to be brought back to this level of Godliness.
But what about that stoning we talked about? What about the wrath of the Lord? Doesn’t the Old Testament have a reputation to maintain?
I will no doubt get into that whole speil another time, but for now, I tell you that God loves. God loves. He gives unceasingly. That is why these past couple of torah readings have all included commandments to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan. You are God’s foot soldiers in the spiritual warfare of life, and God does not want you to leave anyone behind. It is just the kinda god God is; God would give the clothes off his back if he had a back, or clothes, or a corporeal form. (He has a backside which Moses sees, but let’s not get into being flashed by the Divine Presence (Exodus 33:23)).
The haftorah of this week and the past couple of weeks are about the Lord forgiving and renewing and giving, despite Israel’s many many MANY misgivings and faults. It is all building up to the renewal of the year (Rosh Hashanah) and great redemption of Yom Kippur. That’s why they are placed that way. They compliment each other.
Moses says in this week’s reading:
“If you will listen to the voice of G-d... and observe the commandments... All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you…” (Deuteronomy 28:2)
Now I have some curses. In fact, it is even easier to recognize those curses over the blessings, but that’s not the challenge of life. It’s not to be overtaken by curses, or non-chalant about your place in life. The challenge is to be overtaken by your blessings. Swim in them; let them engulf you and make your heart leap and your soul dance.
When it comes down to it, I have so many blessings in my life. I am healthy, I have an amazing support network of friends, loved ones, and mentors, I have intelligent and good looking readership, I go to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and so many things come naturally to me. So often in my life, has just talking to someone rewarded me a thousand times over. I am truly blessed.
Sometimes in life, you think you can’t find the blessings in the curse. This man sufferes one of the worst things a person can suffer: to have both his children killed on the same day. But watch how he finds the blessings:
My final word is this: I love you. I am gonna try my hardest to love the way God does, but I will fall short… and that’s okay. As long as I work to make it better. As long as I love you just as much as I love everyone who reads my blog. As long as I love that homeless guy outside the bus stop enough to show him the compassion those curses keep in my mind. As long as I love that that nice person I keep having interesting conversations with at the Chabad House enough to keep my mind and heart open to another person. I even love the class of Jesuit educated high school students that are reading this, because they will take it as an opportunity to learn some Torah, commune with their Jewish brethren, and set the world on fire (in a good way). I love them all with compassion, kindness, and openness.
By saying this I don’t demean my love. That’s not how love works, if we are to try and emulate God in this respect.
It is not profane because I do not keep it separate; if anything, love is more holy when it is shared.