Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tavo

I met with a young lady many years ago. She was complaining about all the things that were happening to her – she struggled each day. As I asked her about the challenges she faced, she reeled off the list of tragedies in her life. I had to admit being taken back by the gravity of the list. As she finished, I asked, “How do you make it through each day?” “Easily,” she replied. “I count my blessings every day.”

If you know me, then you know that I was not stunned by her confession – I have been there. If you ask me how I am doing, I will tell you, “Blessed every day!” I learned this lesson after my first wife died and then relatively shortly later, my brother followed suit. I woke up every day to find myself stuck in the turmoil of my raw emotions, my sense of loss, my anger and frustration, and my fear, In just those moments when I was not sure which way to turn for sanity, one of my kids would remind me what Godly gifts they are. Friends, colleagues, congregants, and random folks reached out to let me know how much love there is out there.

My reality still faced enormous challenges, but I knew – heart and soul – I was not alone. I was and am blessed. Over the years, we continue to face all that comes our way with a choice to make. I cannot control everything that happens to me, but I am the only one who controls what I do with it. I choose to feel blessed or cursed, and the young lady’s confession was so incredibly affirming at a most needed time. I can never forget to be thankful.

This week’s Torah portion puts before us this very same challenge. We stand in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval. Mount Gerizim represents the blessings that we face, while Mount Eval symbolizes the curses and challenges. The choices always hover above us as we take the next steps through daily living. The mountain to which we lean determines how we face whatever will impact our lives.

People walk sightless among miracles. Opportunities for the good and miraculous lay squandered and unappreciated. In the face of the greatest of opportunities, fear, and a failure in faith causes them to pass us by.

“Because you did not serve God with happiness and with gladness of heart, in abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies . . .” (28:47–48). Torah admonishes us to do more than “get through it” every day. It is so easy and tempting just to get stuck. Yes, we all have things to do and obligations to fulfill. We all know people who march through the day doing everything they are supposed to do, but the attitude of painful obligation or their pained existence while doing the work shows on their faces. Our job is to live with joy. Living with joy does not mean without heartache, it means don’t forget to celebrate living.

The memorial prayer of Kaddish never mentions death. It presumes death. Before we leave the cemetery at a funeral, these are the last words we say. “Let us extol the glory of God! Hallow God all the world!” The text reminds us of how blessed we are to have people in our lives. Even while we emotionally grieve, tradition tells us that we have to turn to celebration. No one guaranteed us a single day with people to love. We are blessed, even amidst the tears of immediate loss.

We all know people who face the most stalwart of life obstacles and emerge even more whole having championed the challenge. People with severe disabilities who thrive in life; people who return from adversity and turn their lives into success; people who have little or nothing who find themselves able to care still and provide for many others – these people are the living proof that faith works and that blessings are out there for everyone. We must choose to see them, internalize them, and celebrate them. In the midst of dealing with my own loss, I had a choice to make. Do I fall into the hole of depression and loss, or do I stand up and thank God for the blessings in my life and for the people who help me see them and appreciate them.

My answer? “I am blessed every day.” Shabbat Shalom.