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November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
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The Blessing

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I was preparing a shiur to honor the memory of my father, Paul Magill, a”h, on the 20th anniversary of his passing, and I was looking at that week’s sedrah, Parshas Re’eh. I was struck by the words, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did not know.”

It hit me that these words were not telling us exclusively that if we observe the commandments we will receive all the good things that are written in the tefillah of Shema, namely “rain for your land at the right season … that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil … and you will eat and be satisfied” (along with receiving other benefits for following Hashem’s ways that are mentioned elsewhere). It seemed that in this passage it was also saying that we are blessed because we hearken to the commandments of Hashem, that it is wonderful that God wants us to be his partner, so to speak, in perfecting the world.

While Hashem could certainly perfect the world by Himself, He wants to give us the opportunity to gain merit for helping Him because He loves us so much. One of our rewards is not the pay we get, but doing the job itself.

I thought about this regarding my father and how I could describe his love for me. There were so many kindnesses he showered on me, so many lessons he taught me in his gentle, intelligent way. As a boy, I was so happy with all the time he spent with me. We hiked together. We played baseball, along with many other sports (and he helped me gather my other friends to participate with us), and he took me to sporting events. We went swimming together and traveled to Expo ’67 in Montreal. We sang songs in the car while going to work with him during my summer vacation. And he even let me help him with his job.

My father took me to see the historic sights in our home city of Philadelphia. He laughed with me and encouraged me by helping me with my homework. When we planned a joint outing together for some fun, there was almost never a change in plans. And when I turned 16, my father taught me how to drive.

He taught me by example about perseverance and honesty. He was a role model and a friend who listened to me and always made me feel important.

At college (my first time away from home), 350 miles from home, I continued playing the street hockey of my youth. One cold day, I got hit in the shins with the puck – and it hurt a lot. I remembered that back in Philadelphia they sold cold-weather pucks, which were able to stay soft even when the weather got brisker. Coming home to my apartment, I planned on calling and asking my father to mail me a supply of those cold- weather pucks.

When I entered my building lobby I saw a package for me from my father. Inside were cold-weather pucks with a note that read, “I thought you might need these.”

In my 30s, when I took my first steps toward becoming religiously observant, my father wholeheartedly supported me. Once, when driving to his native Canada, he stopped at a restaurant for some coffee. I stood by his car in the parking lot on this cold day and davened Minchah, as sunset was approaching. When I finished davening I saw that my father was sitting in the car waiting for me the whole time. Even though the restaurant had been closed, he never hinted that I had in any way inconvenienced him.

Bringing Shabbos into my parents’ apartment in Philadelphia some time later, I still recall my mother and father, a”h, singing Shabbos songs with me from the transliterated Hebrew. We all enjoyed our connection. I recall walking with my father to shul on another occasion, happy to share this experience with him.

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I was preparing a shiur to honor the memory of my father, Paul Magill, a”h, on the 20th anniversary of his passing, and I was looking at that week’s sedrah, Parshas Re’eh. I was struck by the words, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did not know.”

Feeling more alone than at any time since arriving in New York, I looked inside myself for anything that could anchor me to bring me back to who I was, to move away from illusions of romance to my central sticking point. Suddenly and unexpectedly, being a Jew meant more to me than anything else in the world.

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