“See I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you pay attention to the commandments of Hashem that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not pay attention to the commandments of Hashem and you stray from the path that I command you today…” (Devarim 11:26-28).
Our sages ask a number of questions concerning the wording of this pasuk:
1) Why does the Torah use the word “see”? There is nothing being shown or displayed. It would seem more appropriate to use the word “heed.”
2) Considering that this guidance is intended for all generations, why does the word “today” appear – let alone appear twice?
3) Why is the admonition couched in terms of “a blessing and a curse”? Wouldn’t “reward and punishment” be more apt?
The Nesivos Shalom cites the Ari HaKadosh, who writes in his Sefer Yesod HaAvodah, that every individual is sent to this world tasked with a specific mission, a tikkun that only he can complete. Therefore, the Torah begins with the command, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” The Torah is addressing the reason for a man’s presence in this world. If one remains focused on his life’s mission, to grow and develop, his life is a blessing. If he is prevented from fulfilling his goal, his life is cursed.
Hashem, who is good and bestows good, grants every individual the ideal conditions to fulfill his mission. Even the difficulties and challenges a person experiences are intended to help him achieve it. In order to perceive and recognize these advantages, though, man needs to invoke his contemplative powers. Hence the words, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.”
“The blessing…that you pay attention.” Since a person is given the wherewithal to fulfill his mission, when he is gratified with his life’s work and utilizes his abilities accordingly, he sees blessing in his life. If he makes his spiritual success conditional on circumstances, though, then it will be “the curse…if you do not pay attention.
The word “today” is repeated in the verse for the following reason: R’ Moshe of Kubrin was once asked what the most important act for a person to do in this world is. R’ Moshe responded, “Whatever needs to be done right now – that is the most important. Whatever you must do today, do it immediately.”
R’ Nachman of Breslov states that a Jew must disregard two days – yesterday and tomorrow. In his relentless determination to prevent the Jew from accomplishing his mission in life, the yetzer hara speaks of “yesterday,” pointing out a person’s failures in the past and his inability to succeed. Or the yetzer hara suggests that he defer any exertion and wait for “tomorrow” to improve and be a good Jew.
The Nesivos Shalom writes that Parshas Re’eh and Rosh Chodesh Elul are interlinked; both anticipate the exalted days ahead. The Torah calls out, “Re’eh – See, in a month, I give before you hayom – the holy day, Rosh Hashanah – and one must prepare for it.”
R’ Dovid Leikes, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, always traveled to his renowned Rebbe for Yom Kippur. It was usually a mere day’s trip from his hometown to Mezhbizh, where the Baal Shem Tov resided, and one year, like every year, he left a few days early. However, the journey was beset by various mishaps along the way, which greatly delayed him. R’ Dovid was concerned about these inexplicable setbacks as he realized he might not reach his destination in time.
It was a little more than an hour before Yom Kippur when R’ Dovid finally became hopeful that he would indeed arrive in time. He was only a few miles from Mezhbizh, and as the horse rushed through a little village, he was halted by a group of people standing in the road.
When R’ Dovid stopped, the men explained that they only had nine people for Yom Kippur. They begged him to join them as the tenth man. R’ Dovid wanted to help them but, he explained, he had already traveled for three days and was intensely committed to be with his Rebbe for the holiest day of the year. Deeply disappointed, the villagers bade him well.
R’ Dovid continued on his trip and reached Mezhbizh with moments to spare before the yom tov.
After davening, all the chassidim waited in line for the Rebbe’s blessing for a good year. However, the Baal Shem Tov seemed to avoid R’ Dovid and reached over to the person behind him.
“Perhaps he didn’t notice me,” thought R’ Dovid. The next evening, on Motzei Yom Kippur, R’ Dovid stood in line again for a blessing from the Baal Shem Tov for a gmar tov. Once again, the Baal Shem Tov overlooked him. Obviously, the Baal Shem Tov was upset and R’ Dovid needed to clarify why.
R’ Dovid gained an audience with the Baal Shem Tov and asked him what he had done wrong.
“Do you know how many hundreds of years your neshamah has been waiting to complete a minyan for these people on Yom Kippur? That’s why you were put into this world!” said the Baal Shem Tov.
A person must always be alert for that opportunity of a lifetime that may be knocking on his door.