Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tavo
Aristotle wrote extensively about potentiality. He based concepts of what is good or bad in terms of whether someone or something fulfilled or failed to fulfill its (his/her) potentiality. My late father used to say that “potential” was a code word for someone who had not accomplished anything yet. In all, there exists a presumption that we really have the ability to do great things. Dad used to argue that once someone does something great, you no longer talk about his potential. This theory kind of makes sense.
When Green Bay Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers came out of college he was hyped as a future superstar. He dropped to the bottom of the first round in the draft and then sat the bench for years behind superstar Brett Favre. As an avid Packer fan, I cannot count the times announcers watched Rodgers on the bench speaking about his potential. We do not hear people speak of his potential anymore. He is the superstar today. Then we look at others like Matt Leinart, Art Schlichter, or Ryan Leaf. These guys were hallowed as the finest to emerge from college ball and were all abysmal failures in the NFL … and in life. Truly potential is no guarantee.
The Rabbis teach this lesson through midrash. There is the lore that as an infant travels through the birth process, angels teach him/her every language and every subject matter. As we leave the womb to enter the world, an angel touches us just under the nose (accounting for that little dent above our lips) causing us to forget everything. We do not spend our life learning. Rather, we spend our life remembering and reclaiming our knowledge (fulfilling our potential). Some of us fulfill at higher levels and /or in different directions than others, but each of us has gifts to reclaim and to employ.
This week, we watch Moses gather the people to begin another lengthy, “Good bye.” As he has exhorted them all along, he has another urgent teaching to share. “You have seen all that God did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants and to all his land: the great trials which your very eyes beheld, and those great signs and wonders. But God did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear until this day.” Wait, we saw all the miracles that God did, but we had no ability to observe what we saw? This seems odd!
In truth, the above phrase does seem odd, except that it is an accurate description of how we live every day. Every day, we observe the sun in the sky, the forces of nature around us, and the people who walk through our lives. Every day, we observe all these things, but on only rare occasions do we stop and say, “Wow!” We see, hear, and experience miracles throughout every day, and yet, we take them for granted until some epiphanic moment befalls us. How often have we heard people say that they did not really appreciate someone until they were gone? How often do we reminisce about the past and long for some event that we neglected to appreciate in the moment? I went to Hong Kong with my mom and my sister. Yes, I have some great memories of the trip, but knowing a lot more about the area now, there is so much I wish I had known to suggest doing … things that certainly would have been appropriate for young teens. I had teachers whom I dismissed along the way, who I now wish I had listened to a whole lot more than I did. I dismissed people for reasons in my head, not in their reality.
It often takes some event or awakening to allow us access to understanding the things we take for granted. Moses is telling the people, you saw it all, but you really observed nothing. His prayer was that as he prepared to leave the people some of the things he had taught might sink in; some of the miracles they had experienced and dismissed might be reclaimed and held sacred. Each person there is part of the covenant. In fact, we will later read that everyone not there is also part of the covenant. We all have the potential to experience blessings … they are there for each of us. We have to awaken from our malaise and spiritual complacency to appreciate that which is right in front our eyes. The more times we exclaim “Wow!” in awe, the better we will be able to help others see the miracles, as well. “Yad b’yad, ekhad im ha-shaenee – hand in hand, one with the other;” this is how we will help fulfill the world’s potential for healing and peace. Take someone’s hand, and then someone else’s … and then another’s and another’s. Shabbat Shalom.