Tuesday, May 13, 2014

'Cause When Life Looks Like Easy Street, There Is Danger At Your Door (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - (Uncle John's Band")

Our 8th grade daughter participated in softball tournament with other 8th girls representing the Toronto area Day Schools. Thankfully the weather was in the mid sixties, sunny and clear. The tournament was held right near my shul so I strolled over and watched for a few minutes. Some of the school teams had talented girls representing them. It was evident that some of the school teams had practiced for weeks, understood the fundamentals of the game and used appropriate technique to catch the ball, throw the ball and hit the ball. I remember that when our daughter was younger, I taught her how to swing a baseball bat, how to catch and how to throw. After she turned 11 or 12 and exhibited absolutely zero interest in baseball, I didn’t exert the effort in showing her how to catch, throw, hit or even really play the game. Thankfully our daughter has a wonderful attitude and likes to participate so she wasn’t too terribly despondent when I showed up and she told me that she had not had a hit yet nor had she even reached base in eight at bats. Interestingly enough her lack of despondency and disappointment were directly related to the fact that this was a casual sort of experience and not something to take so seriously.  
This Shabbat we read from Parsha Bechukotai. It is the final Parsha of the Book of Leviticus. For the past ten Parshiot, Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus has taught us how to act in a holy manner. We have learned how to behave towards God in a holy manner. We have been taught how to treat member of our family in a holy manner. We have been taught how to treat people outside of our family, friends, acquaintances, employees, and the needy in a holy manner as well. We have been given tools by which we are able to approach God in a sanctified way. We have been given tools to sanctify the seasons, as well as the land of Israel. Finally, here in the last Parsha we are told the reward as well as the punishment if we fail to learn and observe these commandments. The reward is quite simple and straightforward.  Im B’Chukotai Teileichu v’Et Mitzvotai Tishmeru Va’Asitem Otam V’Natati Gishmeichem B’Itam V’Natna Ha’Aretz Y’Vulah V’Eitz Ha’Sadeh Yiten PiryoIf you follow my decrees and observe my commandments and perform them; then I will provide you with rains in their time, and the land will give its produce an the tree of the field will give its fruit. (Lev. 26:3-4). Ultimately our reward is predicated upon fulfilling the commandments.
The punishment is neither simple nor straightforward. Normally one would think that merely our failure to observe and fulfill the commandment would be reason enough for punishment. However this is not the case. Our punishment is a result of something worse than our failure to observe and fulfill these commandments.  V’Im Lo Tishme’u Li, V’Lo Ta’asu Eit Kol HaMitzvot Ha’EilaIf you will not listen to me (obey) and will not perform all of these commandments; V’Im B’Chukotai Timasu V’Im Et Mishpatai Tigal Nafshechemif you consider my Decrees loathsome, and if your being rejects My ordinances (Lev. 26: 14-15) then we receive punishment. There are a series of seven sets of punishments and after each set; we are given an opportunity for Tshuvah, for Repentance. If after each set of punishments we continue to ignore God, then we receive another set of punishments. The Torah keeps repeating a phrase which is far more powerful than “ignoring” God. V’Halachtem Imi B’Keri and if you behave towards Me cavalierly, then the next set of punishments are warranted. It could be argued that our divine punishment is a result of our lack of passion, our lack of care and concern for our role and responsibility in our relationship to God.
Torah is teaching us a valuable lesson about life. Life is sacred. The relationships that we make can and should be sacred, not only with our husbands and wives and our children but with God as well. Self improvement and trying to get the most out of our abilities is directly proportional to how casual and cavalier we are. Success, as Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book Outliers, depends upon putting in tremendous amounts of time, effort and energy to doing something better than the previous time. For our covenant with God, we need to put in the effort and energy to study and learn. For my daughter’s last at bat of the day, well she finally got on base.  I guess I better find the time and have her put in the time if this is something that she truly enjoys doing.

Rav Yitz

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