Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto’s talks are known throughout the Jewish world. They combine chassidic teachings and philosophy, along with tips for a better life. We have collected pearls from his teachings that are relevant to our daily lives. This week he comments on the Torah section of Re’eh.
"Behold, I put before you today a blessing and a curse"
In this week's Torah section, Moses commands the twelve tribes to in the future go on the two mountains, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Six tribes will stand on one mountain and six tribes will stand on the other mountain. The priests and Levites will stand below, and from there they will pronounce the blessings and curses: curses to one side and blessings to the other.
Delving into the verse, we see something strange. The verse begins with re’eh ["see"] in singular tense and continues with lifneichem ["before you"] in plural tense. The Torah is usually precise in its grammar. If the Torah says "see" in the singular, it will continue with "before you" in the singular. When the text’s tenses don’t match up, there is an important reason for it.
We may explain it as follows: the Gemara says (Kiddushin 40a) "A person should always view himself as half guilty and half meritorious. If he does one mitzvah, fortunate is he for tipping the scales to the side of merit. If he does one transgression, woe to him for tipping the scales to the side of guilt." The Rambam also rules like this (Laws of Repentance 3:4).
In our daily lives, the evil inclination tries to convince us that everything that happens to us in life is random and meaningless. He tries to instill in us the message that we are negligible, and that our actions do not elevate or debase us; that they do not add nor subtract from who we are.
This particularly happens when a person has to face an important decision in life. The evil inclination suddenly appears and fills his heart with thoughts such as "Nothing will happen if you commit the sin! Anyway, who will even see you?" The evil inclination imbues us with the feeling that we are unimportant and no one even notices us.
But the Torah tells us that this is not the case, and this is the counsel of the evil inclination. A Jew should always view the world as a scale, equally balanced, half meritorious and half guilty. All of us are on this scale. If you do a very small virtuous act - that good deed will tip the scales to the side of virtue, both for the person himself and for the entire world. And if, God forbid, you committed a sin, you tipped the scales to the other side, to the not good side, and in doing so, you ruined and destroyed the whole world.
This helps us understand the holy Torah’s terminology. Moses is commanding to go to two mountains and place six tribes on each mountain. The priests are to say the blessing and the curse, the good and the bad. Moshe starts with “See!” in the singular, and then continues “in front of you” in the plural. The message he is conveying to us is that every action you do not only affects you and your private family, but also the entire world. If a person does a good deed, he elevates the whole world with that good deed, and if, God forbid, a person does an evil deed, he drags the whole world down with that evil deed.
We must internalize this message in our hearts. A person is not small and worthless; he has tremendous powers. One person’s act can change the entire world.
When a person lives with this realization, he has the power to overcome the evil inclination and defeat its despicable effect to lower his self-confidence and faith. When a person realizes how much power he possesses, that will motivate him to keep away from doing evil.
In another section of Re’eh, Moses told the Israelites: “See, I am putting before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing will be if you will listen...” This means that if you listen and go in a good way, then you will have blessing and it will be good. But if you do not listen and do not go in a good way - then curse will come upon you.
Why does the Torah say "if you will listen” instead of "if you will do?" While a person must first listen in order to do, the main thing is what he does. If so, why does the Torah emphasize listening instead of doing?
A great principle is being taught here: people usually underestimate the power of hearing, even though it can have a huge, unparalleled impact on them. The root of everything in life is listening. A person who knows how to listen and accept what he heard has the key to success in life.
The Mishnah says (Avot 2:8) about Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah “Blessed is the one who gave birth to him.” The great praise said about Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah is actually praise for his mother. His mother was the one who caused him to be wise. She used to go to all the study halls in the city and ask the learners, “Please pray that my son will be wise.” (Rav Ovadya Bartenura ibid.) The Yerushalmi Talmud (Yevamot 1:6) relates that she would bring him in his cradle to the synagogue so his ears would hear the words of Torah. Even though he did not understand what he was hearing, he would hear the words of the Torah and it would have a great impact on him. This is why Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah grew up to become one of the greatest sages of the Jewish people. From the youngest age, his soul was attuned to listening only to the words of the Torah and spiritual matters.
It is told about the Bnei Issachar that when his grandson was small, he would sit with him and teach him Kabbalah and other Torah secrets. People asked him: "The child is so young. Why are you teaching him Torah secrets and Kabbalah when he still does not know how to read and write? It is best that he first learn the basics - Chumash, Mishnah and Gemara, and only then will he be ready for Kabbalah."
The Bnei Issachar replied: "The Mishnah says (Avot 4:20) One who teaches a child, what is he compared to? Like ink written on a new sheet of paper. And one who teaches an old student, what is he compared to? Like ink written on a sheet whose writing was erased. Maybe now my grandson doesn't understand my Kabbalah teachings, but he hears them and they enter his soul. When he is older and is ready to learn Kabbalah, he will absorb it easily because he already heard it when he was a toddler."
This is a great fundamental: The blessing and the curse which God gives us depends upon "if you shall listen." Everything depends upon how one starts out. The root of everything and the power one has depends upon what the person was listening to from the beginning.
(Published in the BaKehilah chareidi weekly)
This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel