Bechukosay, 5779 ~ House Arrest — How Bad Can it Be?
Tish Talk by Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz
Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos Table
I remember as a “Yeshiva Bachor guest” at the Shabbos table of married friends how my hosts were conspicuous in their exuberant discussion of their favorite memories together: their frequent vacations to the Hawaii Islands. As they shared, their best times as a couple were when they escaped to a new and different place in an exotic environment, rediscovering each other in a new and less “familiar” setting. I remember being unsettled by this sentiment. Wasn’t the idea of marriage that “every day was supposed to be like being in “Hawaii”? Why would they need to escape the joy of the joint life they so excitedly embarked on as an idealistic and loving couple?
Today they are no longer together, very regretfully.
You all know my conviction that there is no life issue from which we cannot find guidance in the Torah. But what does the Torah have to say about this question, this couple? We need look no further than this week’s Parasha.
To paraphrase the Parasha, the Torah starts off saying: “if you’re good and keep the Mitzvot, “live a proper life”, you will have great weather. Seasons will come and go the way the way they should. Seeds will take, crops will grow, you will be healthy, prosperous, and raise your families in “peace and security”. But if you are BAD, all bets are off. Not only will you not have a normal life, with basic happiness and security to enjoy, you will have a complete and total destruction of any semblance of normalcy. The absolutely abnormal will occur. The words are too frightening to repeat. Literally just think Holocaust. Plain and simple, if you’re good you’ll have a nice and normal life. If you’re bad — you’ll have a Holocaust. I’m not making this up —read the Parasha!
Does this sound right? Doesn’t this system of reward and punishment sound disproportionate and imbalanced? If the suffering caused by our moral breakdown is so great, shouldn’t the reward match the punishment’s ferocity? We should be promised lives in gilded palaces, with not just “normal” conveniences as health, peace and security, but granted lives of kings, queens, princes and princesses! We should enjoy success, luxury, pleasure and power beyond measure! We should all be granted permanent residence atop an ocean view palace on Kauai, Maui, or the Kahala coast! Would that not only be fair given the horrific consequences we are guaranteed when we veer from the path??
Unless we view the Parasha a little differently. Perhaps the Torah is teaching us in this very Parasha one of the most fundamental lessons of life and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is never in the “extraordinary”, the “miraculous and incredible”. Rather, the beauty and joy of life is actually in seeing the glory in the mundane, in the everyday. The sound of a bird’s morning chirp, the feel of the ground below your feet allowing you to stand strong and experience another breath, enjoying another day of loving, learning, feeling, giving, experiencing Hashem’s normal, regular, natural, humdrum world-is the greatest joy-and reward one can receive. In our world of “new and improved” we underestimate the extreme beauty that can be found in experiencing the world as HaShem made it to run. The simple “stuff of life”— heaven and earth “doing their thing” in perfect synchrony: winter, spring, summer, and fall; birth, life, even death and regeneration may present as boring and humdrum to us, but are in reality are the embodiment and the essence really of the extraordinary, of the miraculous, of the wholly incredible.
Says the Torah and HaShem to our vacationing couple: yes, go to Hawaii, enjoy my gorgeous world together! But not to escape the monotony of your daily life, but rather to discover the gorgeousness of your own backyard...
Wishing us all a Shabbos, and a life in which we discover the miracles and treasures that lie not in Hawaii, or anywhere else - other than in the here and now!
Shabbat Shalom Umevoracht! A beautiful and Peaceful Shabbos to All!
Shalom Rubanowitz, at the "Shul on the Beach", Venice, California.
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