These concepts are relevant with regard to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Re’eh, which begins: (Deuteronomy 11:26.) “See that I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse.” The portion continues to allude to free choice, reward and punishment: (Ibid.: 27-28.) “The blessing [will come] if you obey the commandments… and the curse [will come] if you do not heed… and go astray from the path which I have commanded.”
Moshe is telling the people that their observance of G-d’s commandments will not be a spontaneous response. Instead, they will constantly be required to make conscious choices.
Why does G-d grant man choice? To elevate him to a higher plane of Divine service. Were man’s choice between good and evil to come naturally, he would not have any sense of accomplishment. What would he have earned?
But wouldn’t it be easier and a lot less hazardous to our souls if God didn’t give us a choice? After all, look at how badly we messed up the first choice we were ever given.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. -Genesis 3:1-7 (ESV)
Were we elevated “to a higher plane of Divine service” on that particular occasion?
On the other hand, consider this.
You are raising a young child and trying to teach him good work habits as well as basic moral and ethical principles. On top of that, like all parents, you want your child to love and respect you. You can teach your child in a couple of different ways. You can threaten to punish your child if he doesn’t do what you ask of him, or you can offer rewards if he does what you want.
This is more or less how we tend to parent children. We put them in “time out” or take some other punitive action when they make “bad choices,” and we give them treats or allowances (money) for achieving certain goals.
But what we really want more than anything else, is for our children to do what we ask of them because they love us.
I mean, what Mom’s heart hasn’t melted when their little boy gives her a card made with construction paper, glitter, and colored with crayons saying “I love you” and it’s not even her birthday or Mother’s day? He did it just because he loves her.
Even the toughest Dad, if he has a heart at all, will turn to mush when his little girl jumps into his lap, gives him a big hug and says, “I love you, Daddy.”
You’re not alive if that doesn’t get to you.
What does God want?
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. -Matthew 22:37-38 (ESV)
God loves people and He blesses us. He desired to bless the children of Israel, not because they were the best or the brightest or the most humble of all the peoples of the earth, but because He loved them (and He loves them still). The words “bless” and “blessed” are all over this week’s Torah portion. We also see from the often quoted John 3:16 that it wasn’t just the Israelites that God loved (and loves), but it’s the whole world. God loves all of His creations. He loves all of us who have been created in His image.
Naturally, He wants us to love Him back. He provides us with blessings and curses in order to do what we do as parents for our children. To discipline us. To teach us lessons in ethics and morals. To help us understand the difference between right and wrong. But most of all, He doesn’t want us to obey him just because of the blessings and curses. He wants us to obey Him because we love Him.
Be aware of the positive attributes and behaviors of the people with whom you come into contact and help them build upon their strengths. Encouragement is a much more powerful tool for change and growth than blaming and condemning. You can bring about miracles in people’s lives if you believe in their potential.
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Bring about Miracles in People’s Lives”
from the “Today’s Daily Lift” series
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus tells us that we can show our love to God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. We should show love to our neighbor, not because we want a reward or we fear a punishment, but because we love God and frankly, because it’s the right thing to do. Nevertheless, love brings blessings. Rabbi Touger finishes his commentary this way:
The ultimate expression of the potential of sight will be in the Era of the Redemption, with the fulfillment of the prophecy: (Isaiah 40:9) “The glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see.” In contrast to the present era, when we can see only material entities and G-dliness is perceived as an external force, in that future time, we will see directly how G-dliness is the truth of all existence.
Nor is this merely a promise for the distant future. The Redemption is an imminent reality, so close that a foretaste of its revelations is possible today. Indeed, it is already possible to see manifestations of the blessings of Redemption in the events which have occurred to the Jewish people in the recent past.
Whenever we love God by acting out that love toward others, we see not only a vision of the ultimate redemption of the world that will occur when Jesus returns, but we summon something of that Messianic redemption in the very act of being loving. This applies not only to the Jewish people but to anyone who is learning to know and love God. This is also one of the values of the Shabbat, which is a foretaste of the Messianic Age wrapped up in a single twenty-four hour period.
Love God and love others, not because you want something or are afraid of something. Love because you know what it feels like to be loved. Love because you are loved. Just love.