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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Re'eh 5774 "Part of a Team"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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A man lost his way while driving through the country. As he tried to reach for his map[1], he accidentally drove off the road and into a ditch. Although he wasn’t injured his car was stuck in a deep layer of mud. He pulled himself out and walked down the road to seek assistance. Not too far away was an old farmhouse with an old genial farmer standing in front. When the man explained his predicament the farmer jumped to his feet. “Warwick can get you out of the ditch in a jiffy” he announced, pointing to an old mule grazing out in the field. The man looked skeptically at the decrepit old mule, but the farmer was insistent that Warwick could do it.

The two men accompanied the mule back to the ditch. The farmer hitched the reins to the car. Then he snapped the reins and shouted, “Alright! Fred, Jack, and Warwick, pull! Fred, Jack, and Warwick, pull!” Within a couple of minutes the mule pulled the car completely out of the ditch.

The man was amazed. He thanked the farmer profusely and patted Warwick on the head. Before leaving he asked the farmer why he called out those other names. The farmer grinned, “You see, old Warwick is just about blind. As long as he believes he’s part of a team he doesn’t mind pulling!”

“See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.”[2]

Chizkuni points out that up to this point of his discourse to the nation, Moshe Rabbeinu cajoled the nation about such fundamental commandments as loving and fearing G-d, avoiding idolatry, and preserving the sanctity of the Holy Land. The first three parshios of Chumash Devorim were exhortations to the nation that they maintain their greatness and not forget their sense of responsibility as the Chosen People.

At this point, Moshe paused and put it all into perspective, stating that the prerogative to choose whether to live a Torah life or not is the same as choosing between living a blessed life or a cursed life.

Moshe urged the people to “see”, because good and evil are often befuddled. It often seems that the wicked lead a life of contentment and goodness while the righteous live deprived and wanting. However, the reality is that one who does not grasp the “tree of life” will not be able to find fulfillment and meaning in his life. But one who does not contemplate and seek this truth will be fooled by the external mirage of what appears to be a blessing.[3]

The commentators question the grammar of the opening verse of the parsha. The word “Re’eh – see” is a singular verb, while the word “lifneichem – before you” is in the plural. Why does the verse change from the singular to the plural within the same verse?

Minchas Asher[4] quotes the gemara[5]: “One should always view himself as if he and the world are half liable and half meritorious; if he merits and performs one good deed praised is he, for he has tilted himself and the entire world to the side of merits. If he transgresses a sin woe is to him, for he has pushed himself and the entire world toward the side of liability.” The verse refers to this Talmudic statement when it states, “See (singular) that I have placed before you (i.e. the entire world) blessing and curse”, for one should always view himself as if the fate of the entire world rests in his hands.

Rabbi Weiss explains that the message of the gemara is that one must always contemplate and be wary of how his actions will be viewed, as well as how they will influence others. When one sins in front of another and the other person learns from his example he will ultimately be held culpable - not only for his own sin - but for the sin of his “disciple” as well.

The Chofetz Chaim noted that in Russia there was a melamed[6] who did not connect well with a student named Leib Bronstein. Leib eventually abandoned Torah completely and adopted the name Leon Trotsky. He became one of the most infamous communists and virulent anti-Semites in Russia. The Chofetz Chaim noted that that teacher would ultimately have to answer, not only for Leon Trotsky’s malice and iniquity, but also for all of the hatred for Torah and destruction of religion which he promoted.

Our sages teach that the reward for good is always far greater than the magnitude of punishment for evil. For example, when the Jewish midwives in Egypt defied the command of Pharaoh and helped the Jewish mothers give birth to boys safely, the verse states that, “G-d was good to the midwives and the nation multiplied.”

Seforno explains that “the good” was that He caused the nation to multiply. Every good deed that those children performed was on some level attributed to the midwives which guaranteed them endless merits.

One must always think about how he is fitting in with the larger public and if he is contributing positively or not. He must contemplate how his actions going to be viewed by others and if they will have a positive affect. Essentially, he must answer whether he is being a productive member of society.

Anyone who has ever worked in any sort of organization understands the veracity and fundamentality of this concept. A group is only as strong and productive as the union and unity between its members.

This week our family returned from Camp Dora Golding where we are fortunate to spend our summers, and I serve as a Division Head. The camp boasts over 500 campers and over 300 more staff members, administration, and family members.

Each year, during the final Shabbos of the camping season, the camp director and his wife, Mr. Alex and Chanie Gold, host an ‘appreciation Kiddush’ for the staff.

A few years ago at the Kiddush, the then head counselor - Rabbi Pinchos Idstein - related the following thought: When the Torah records the events of the first six days of creation, each day[7] concludes with the words, “G-d saw that it was good”. After the Torah records the creations of the sixth day however, the verse concludes “G-d saw all that He made and it was very good…”[8] At the end of the sixth day it was not simply “good” but “very good”.

The Vilna Gaon explained that there are certain things that are only ‘good’ when they stand alone. As soon as those things are coupled together with something else they lose their ability to produce. G-d’s Creation however, was created so that each component would work in tandem to produce the perfection of creation. It is specifically when the world works in harmony that true goodness can be achieved. Therefore, it was only when G-d saw “ALL that He created” that He proclaimed that it was “very good.”

Rabbi Idstein emphasized that the success of a camp is based on the harmonious efforts of all its diverse parts. Every person has his own role and responsibility and each one is integral for the success of the camp. We are all inextricably bound!

Parshas Re’eh is read the week when we are Mevarech Chodesh Elul. The awesome days of judgment are imminent and we will soon stand again adorned in our prayer shawls begging for another year of blessing and goodness. Repentance is in the air and the call of the shofar will again seek to rouse us from our slumber. Our sages teach us that one of the greatest merits which one can have is that of unity and being a productive member of Klal Yisroel.

Each of us must “see” the blessing and curse, albeit not in a selfish manner. We must “see” and recognize our individual place and how invaluable every one of us is. If we do so, then G-d will see that we are a people who are “very good” and we will merit a year of blessing and redemption.

“See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse”

“G-d saw all that He made and it was very good”

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[1] Once upon a time, before the world of GPS, people needed things called maps to help them with directions…

[2] Devorim 11:26

[3] This week we saw a living example of the dictum that all that glitters is NOT gold, when a noted American comedian and celebrity who was thought to be wealthy and not lacking anything committed suicide out of feelings of loneliness, despair, and deep depression.

[4] Rabbi Osher Weiss shlita

[5] Kiddushin 40b

[6] a teacher who taught Torah to children

[7] aside from the second day

[8] Bereishis 1:31

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