Ekev 5779

How Should Reality Look? Parashat Ekev
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

Moses’ speeches before parting from the nation he led for forty years in the desert continue to accompany us until today through the Torah readings every Shabbat. The book of Deuteronomy continues to reverberate thousands of years after Moses stood before the nation guiding them, warning them about potential spiritual pitfalls, and giving advice. One of the things we read about in this week’s Torah portion which has stayed with us consistently is the “blessing” we bless G-d.

This is what Moses said to the Jewish nation:
For the Lord your G-d is bringing you to a good land, a land with brooks of water, fountains and depths…a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil producing olives and honey…And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the Lord, your G-d, for the good land He has given you.
(Deuteronomy 8, 7-10)

Moses describes for his listeners the Promised Land as one of abundant goodness, and it is indeed that. The result of this description is that when we eat and enjoy the fruit of the land, we are to bless G-d for the abundance of goodness he has bequeathed to us.

This blessing is Birkat Hamazon, Grace after Meals, which we recite after eating bread. Our sages saw in this blessing a principle which teaches us about all spheres of life, and they made blessings for almost every situation in a person’s life. When a Jew wakes up in the morning, he recites a series of blessings; before eating any type of food – there’s a blessing; hearing thunder, seeing lightening, being at sea, on a mountain, seeing a rainbow – all call for blessings; when a child is born – there is a blessing; a wedding – also cause for blessings; even when, G-d forbid, a close relative dies – even then we recite a blessing. Actually, an observant Jew recites about one hundred blessings a day!
These one hundred daily blessings envelope the life of an observant Jew and impact his world-view and his relationship to an ever-changing and often challenging reality.

What is the significance of a blessing? We are obviously not wishing G-d luck! When we say “Blessed are You, G-d” we mean to say that G-d is the source of all blessings, the source of all the situations we encounter and which we must deal with.

We’re used to thinking of G-d as exalted, good, absolute, and eternal perfection. In contrast, the reality we live in is not complete, and does not always seem particularly good. Seeing in G-d the source of all reality is making a claim about that reality, a claim that might even seem radical. All reality stems from absolute goodness!

Do we mean to say that there is no suffering in the world? Sadly, there is suffering, and it is our job to minimize it and heal it as much as possible. By doing so we are fulfilling our obligation to walk in G-d’s path and make a positive impact in the world. There is also evil in the world, and it is our job to face it and overcome it. Blessings are not an attempt to nullify the human experience of suffering, evil, or sin. But blessings are an attempt to propose a different perspective, one that is more transcendent, whole, from which we are inspired to find the strength to heal suffering and overcome evil.

A person whose day is composed of saying “Blessed are You, G-d” a hundred times, pointing to reality as stemming from absolute goodness, is a person who is not willing to accept suffering or evil. The courage to fight for justice, against discrimination, against iniquity and for goodness stems from that same understanding that creates the unacceptable discrepancy: on the one hand, G-d is the source of all reality, and on the other hand, reality doesn’t look like we imagine it should. This is the discrepancy we cannot accept, and with the power of faith, we are inspired to close that gap and make reality better and more just.

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