By Yeshaia Blakeney
One of my favorite pieces in Torah is the timeless line, “I put before you a blessing and a curse, blessing if you obey the commandments a curse if you stray from the path and follow other G-ds...," G-d has given us options. A choice, but the teacher has already told us what the right answer is, why has this been a difficult choice then for thousands of years?
At Beit T’Shuvah, when a resident has a difficult choice to make, I usually rely on an old classic to help them suss out the problem; a pros and cons list. So that’s what I have done here, my pros and cons of living on G-d's path.
Legitimate reasons to stray from the path – “The Cons”
1. “I don’t believe in what G-d says” and or “I don’t believe in G-d at all” which makes the first point a moot one. This is a legitimate reason to stray from the path.
2. Ignorance: I don’t always know the right thing to do or how to apply what’s right to each scenario; I don’t have all the facts.
3. Miscalculation: The miscalculation is that I have an idea in my head of what it’s like to experience these other G-ds but the reality is different; a gap between anticipation and gratification. I mistake a circle for a path. And sometimes these other G-ds (money, drugs, power, self) feel better, more real than walking the tight rope of living by G-d’s commandments. At least in the moment they do.
4. Lack of power, I’d like to live on G-ds path but I can’t control myself, or I can’t let go of control. Either way, the issue is lack of Power. This is a legitimate reason to stray from the path.
5. Times have changed/moral objections: if I follow all G-d commands, not to be mistaken for commandments, I’d have to stone my daughter to death if I ever found out she was an atheist, I don’t know how many of you’ve ever seen my daughter, but she’s pretty cute.
6. I like to carve out my own path, I’m a rebel a contrarian. If G-d gave me “free will” what’s the point if I can’t use it to do what I want. Or if when I do what I want I’m punished for it? Bringing me right back to the question, why believe in a G-d who gives me that kind of free will? It’s like telling a prisoner, “I’m gonna set you free but if you try to leave I'm gonna shoot you.” That free will sucks; I want to do what I want and get rewarded for doing it.
On to the Pros, or Legitimate reasons for living on the path
1. Purpose/meaning: I am not an end, in and of myself; as Huston Smith says “the self is too small to keep me perpetually enthused.” I agree. G-ds path provides me with meaning beyond myself.
2. Faith and transcendence: to have faith in or to experience transcendence is a “higher” experience than any material thing or drug can offer. That is a legitimate reason for living on the path.
3. Freedom: being on the path allows me to see the difference between blessing and curse and affords me the opportunity to choose wisely. When I stray from the path I get lost in self and feel trapped with no choices available to me. Freedom, the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without.
4. ”you”:To live by G-ds commandments is to care about you and your needs, to help those that need help, to care for the widow and the orphan. I need to be an example of living on the path, spiritual living is contagious, it has spread to my friends and family and most important my children.
5. The mystery: I have worshipped other G-ds and they have led me to bottoms, I have no idea where this path will take me and am excited and humbled by the possibility.
6. Experience/ transformation: I have had an authentic spiritual experience; nothing is more powerful , and pros and cons lists don’t matter in the face of revelation .
When I had only my cons list my wife said it was too harsh and I couldn’t do it. She said I had an obligation to steer the argument and push for the path - that the point of doing a Drash is to bring a message to people. I think hearing the argument against living on G-d’s path is scary, and seductive, and you don’t want it spoken out loud. When I first finished the cons list and started the pros, I couldn’t think of a single reason to live on G-d’s path. My first thought was "better safe than sorry.” And then something happened: I closed my eyes, took a breath and cleared my mind. I let G-d in. My energy changed; simple words flowed out of me and my spirit felt at rest. Words like peace and blessings, opportunity and freedom, felt authentic in the moment that I was writing them. I realized that my cons list came from a different part of self. A strict, rational, cynical side of myself. By the time I had finished my pros list my wife was no longer worried you (or she) would be sold on not living on the path or offended for me laying out the argument. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident.”
There is one other part of straying from G-d that I didn’t mention, straying from G-d’s path happens to all of us. I laid out these lists because they are what we wrestle with in this community. It is the most important struggle for us as human beings, to see the holy in each moment and each decision. To see the holy in ourselves. Sometimes it is very hard to see. When we lose sight of the path, sometimes it is no big deal, we make minor corrections, apologize, get it right the next time. Sometimes when we lose sight of the G-d in us it is an unimaginable tragedy. At Beit T’Shuvah we try to scrub off all the layers of shmutz that we’ve built up in our addictions, blow it out of us like the beginning of Shabbos, to be, and to see the holy soul that G-d created us as. Even in the face of infinite choices that I don’t understand, I am grateful and humbled by the blessings G-d has given us. I am grateful that G-d afforded us the opportunity to choose, between the blessing and the curse.