The Purple Sheet
Shabbat Parshat Matot & Masei– August 5th/6th 2016 –ב’ אב תשע’ו
Life Filled with Blessings
May the good Lord be with you
down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
surround you when you’re far from home
And may you grow to be proud
dignified and true
And do unto others
as you’d have done to you
Everybody likes a blessing. To have someone wish us health, success, prosperity and good things in life is wonderful; what’s not to like? To receive such a wish from someone who seems to have a close connection with God is even better. Hence many seek the blessings of great rabbis, or others whom Jewish tradition views as having a special role because of their time and place, such as the Sandak (the one holding the baby during a circumcision) or a new convert who is regarded as sin-free when he or she emerges from the mikvah. But any blessing will do and the Talmud says that one should never treat the blessing of a regular Joe lightly.
Blessings play an important role in Judaism. The Hebrew word for blessing, ברוך Baruch probably appears in the Siddur Prayer Book more than any other word. We say a bunch of blessings when we arise in the morning as well as in the essential prayer, the Amidah, the silent meditation that is literally called, “Eighteen” after the number of blessing included in it. The Talmud says one should strive to utter 100 blessings a day.
When you look at the first encounter between God and the first Jew, Avraham, you will see that Blessing plays an integral role.
And the Lord said to Avram, “Go forth from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and [you shall] be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you.”
Five times the word blessing is used. Not only as a verb, as when God blessed Avraham, but as a noun as well; Avraham is a blessing (“and you will be a Blessing”). And not only that, but all of Mankind is to be blessed via Abraham. The definitive message that God is getting across to the first Jew at the very first time that He communicates with him is all about Blessing.
The Jewish idea of Blessing is the opposite of the present-day viewpoint that life is a “Zero Sum Game”. In case you are not familiar with this term, Wikipedia defines it as follows: In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s).
In other words, if someone is getting ahead, it is at the expense of someone else. Things always have to add up to zero, so my loss is your gain and vice versa. Some even contend that life in general works this way and is prevalent in our society where the rich or anyone who achieves success only get that way at the expense of others. Sadly many people go through life with this pessimistic outlook.
There is nothing more opposite to a Jewish world view than this Zero Sum Game notion. Blessing is about win-win realities, not win-lose theories. My good can lead to your good and will not cost me a nickel. In fact the opposite – if I gain, you and others can gain as well without any loss. If one person is creative, successful and becomes wealthy, he can now employ many others so they have means to make a living. He can contribute to charity to improve his or her community and society at large. Blessing is something that emanates outward in a ripple effect, broad and wide.
There is a fellow at Aish who found his niche in life a few years back with a particular business after some ups and downs and now he employs so many others, both young (including my son for a summer job) and old. His blessing and good has led to good and blessings for tens of others in our community.
Recently a synagogue moved right next door to Aish. Before they opened – and they were very upfront, honest and open about their intentions with me from the beginning – they wanted to make sure it was ok with me. And it was; I had no issue with it at all because I knew that not only will it not take away from anything we are trying to accomplish but actually add to it. And indeed that is what happened – the rabbi next door has strengthened our morning minyan by joining it, he brings a few people with him as well since he gives a class right afterwards, which some of our people attend. I speak at his place periodically and his students gain from our teachers and are joining some of our programs. It is win, win, win and win.
This is what Blessing is all about and what the Jewish people try to offer the world. It is the truest expression of an Infinite God who can give without end and suffer no loss. It is an idea that sadly most of the Arab world refuses to acknowledge in their blind hatred that prevents them from partnering with the Jewish nation and enjoying so many benefits and blessings economically and otherwise that would result. They may be descendants of Abraham, but they have failed to learn the most important lesson of their forefather.
God has never-ending blessings. If you wish to go through life with petty competitions, jealousies and resentful anger at the good of another, then it is hard for God and others to share His and their blessings with you. But if you become a disciple of Avraham and realize that God’s blessing have no limit, then you will be amazed at how magically good and blessing will fill your life.
But whatever road you choose
I’m right behind you, win or lose
Forever Young, Forever Young