In this week’s Parashah, we find a continuation of last week’s Parashah’s theme of reward and punishment. In the second Aliyah of the Sedrah, the Torah states, “Re’eih Natati Lefanecha HaYom Et HaChayim VeEt HaTov VeEt HaMavet VeEt HaRa,” “Behold I have given before you today, the life and the good, and the death, and the bad” (Devarim 30:15). Many Mefarshim are troubled by this seemingly vague Pasuk. What does the Torah mean when it refers to all of these general rewards and consequences? What is considered good and what is considered bad?
Rabbeinu Bachya is one of the many Mefarshim who shed light on the meaning of this Pasuk. He suggests that there are two ways of interpreting this statement of the Torah. The first and more conventional approach is simply that if one follows all of the Mitzvot and listens to the word of Hashem, then he/she will be rewarded with a good and full life. On the other side of the coin, if one does evil and doesn’t listen to the word of Hashem, then he/she will live a terrible, short life. The message according to this understanding of the Pasuk is simple. The key to our very existence is the Torah and Mitzvot. The main proof to this idea comes from our very existence today, as throughout our history we have been through many great times and many bad times. But, in the end, we have always emerged strong due to our belief in Hashem and His Torah. Hashem here clarifies that we cannot function without the Torah. And because that is the case, we must always strive to elevate ourselves religiously in order to achieve this goal.
Rabbeinu Bachya then offers another interpretation to this ambiguous Pasuk. He explains that the Pasuk is saying that the Torah has the potential to be either a meaningful way of life and lead us to immense reward, or to be unfavorable in our eyes and lead us to death. What determines which way the Torah will lead us? Rabbeinu Bachya answers that for a Tzaddik, a righteous person, leading a Torah life will be a positive experience, and for a Rasha, a wicked person, it will be a negative experience. The way to determine which path we should take is to consider our attitudes toward Torah and Mitzvot. If one approaches Torah with a pessimistic attitude or a feeling that it is a burden, then it will become much more difficult for him/her to enjoy a Torah lifestyle and to really understand Hashem and Avodat Hashem. When we are approaching Torah, or any aspect of Avodat Hashem, we must have a positive attitude that we are leading ourselves on a good path by putting ourselves on the path of Torah and Mitzvot. Such a mindset makes our performance of Mitzvot that much easier and more enjoyable. And once we begin a habit of positivity, it will continue, in the hope that we will eventually achieve the classification of a Tzaddik.
This idea holds true all year round but is of the utmost importance in month of Elul and during the Yamim Nora’im. During this time, we are faced with the challenges of doing Teshuvah, one of the most difficult processes a human being faces in his or her lifetime. The process involves asking people for Mechilah, forgiveness, though it may be very difficult, and fixing our character flaws. Only after that do we go and sit in Shul on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to Daven for hours. The whole process, therefore, can be a very challenging and wearing one. Because of this, it can be very easy to approach this time period with a negative attitude, viewing the Avodah of the season as a burden instead of the transcendent, uplifting experience that it is. Therefore, our challenge as a nation over the next few days is to get ourselves into a positive mindset to do Teshuvah as the Pasuk in this week’s Parashah expects us to do. Only once we embrace this attitude will we be able to do complete Teshuvah and continue to live our lives as fully dedicated members of the Am Hashem.