August 16, 2001
The Long and Winding Road
Parashat Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)
A young friend of mine switched career paths, giving up on an industry that she did not find fulfilling. She is now working in a field that she finds challenging, has potential for growth and gives her opportunities to contribute in ways that are important to her. This week she received a call from someone begging her to return to her previous career, offering to even double her salary. Obviously, this was an extremely tempting offer, one that is not only lucrative, but that validates her worth and talents in the field. Yet, she declined the offer. She made a choice to stay in a career that brings fulfillment to her life.
She is choosing to live a life of blessing. This blessing is precisely the kind we are encouraged to seek in this week's Torah Portion. As Moses continues his farewell charge to the people, he calls out, "See, this day I set before you blessing and curse." Moses informs us that we each have the ability to choose living a life of blessing.
To actively make this choice, the verse tells us we must see what is set before us. It is often a tremendous challenge to see what is in front of us, because our complex reality is not solely physical. Often we must see the world and our place in it through other eyes, through the eyes of knowing, feeling and understanding. Bitterness, doubt, pain can blur our vision. Then, we must see with our heart, intuition, insight and intellect to comprehend what is right for us.
We have the power to choose blessing or curse. Choosing a life of blessing means using the circumstances God has placed before us. If we use the particulars of our situation to fulfill our potential, then we choose blessing. If we squander them and do not find the path to attainment of the unique way we can touch the world, then we feel discontent. We search, we wander, we cannot "find ourselves." This is the curse.
A Midrash, a rabbinic legend, describes life as a crossroads. It says there are two roads to walk down, the road of blessing or the road of curse. One road begins straight and ends with curves, the other begins with curves and obstacles, yet ends straight. The straight road often seems easy and more direct, but yet can have obstacles, and even lead us astray. The curved road symbolizes the difficulties and trials and errors we must endure before we can set ourselves on a straight path. Often, only after we have acquired insight and understanding can we utilize our special gifts.
The world, with its challenges and blessings, is given to all of us. Yet, how we live in and respond to it is uniquely up to us. God invites us in to be ourselves, to avail ourselves of all the conditions of life, the wondrous along with the hardships and the challenges. Yitzchak Luria, the 16th-century kabbalist, teaches that we are each here to do a specific task. No one else can make a difference, do a job, approach a kindness or perform a mitzvah, exactly the way we can.
The Torah says, "See, this day I set before you blessing and curse." It urges us to use "this day," today; to respond to the uplifting and to the oppressive. Every day the possibilities of life are renewed.
A man I know is on kidney dialysis. His entire lifestyle has been altered. Three times a week he must spend most of the day hooked up to a machine. He has had to reduce his business, his social life, his traveling. Yet instead of bitterness, he maintains an outlook on life that is positive, vital and filled with contributions to others. As he sits in the clinic, he shares entertaining anecdotes with the healthcare workers and the other patients. He continues to run his business on a limited basis, he maintains his leadership role in his synagogue and is devoted to family and friends.
As a step toward helping others see and understand their world, he takes time to counsel others suffering from kidney failure about living with the realities of dialysis. Just like my young friend who made a deliberate choice of a fulfilling career, in his own way, every day, he is choosing the path of blessing.
Rabbi Mimi Weisel is assistant dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.