Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Re’eh
Early on in my Rabbinical School career, I went to a nursing home to visit someone in need of speaking with a Chaplain. As a rising third-year Rabbinical Student (5 year program), I knew just enough to be dangerous. I learned a lot living in the role of Chaplain. We learn that the “Ministry of Presence” is a tool that every chaplain has to master. Well, let me affirm that there is no greater truth in ministry; but not necessarily for the reasons, one might assume. Practicing this ministry means that you spend more time paying attention than participating in an active conversation.
Yes, “being there” for people in need is a gift. We know that just showing up makes an incredible difference. That first day visiting taught me that more often than not, the Chaplain gets more out of the visit than does the patient. Even while the patient and his/her family face crucial life-altering decisions or challenges, the Chaplain gets to learn just how sacred the process of making these choices can be. That first visit was not about life or death. The patient had resolved that she was going to die relatively soon (a lesson in and of its self). Our conversation was not about her death. That day, we talked about how it was going to happen and what she might have to endure along the way.
She was going to die but did not want to suffer the cursed indignities and pain that came with a longer demise as the body and mind begin to shut down. She watched too many people slowly lose touch with their faculties and their ability to celebrate family and friends. Rather, she was going to die on her own terms, in a much shorter time frame, and experience the blessing of her close relationships right up until she was gone. So, before the system began to demise, she stopped eating and medicating and went much sooner than she might have, but with a whole lot more dignity and a much greater quality of life in her final moments. I learned a ton from her, and her death taught me a lot about the blessing of life.
This week’s Torah portion begins with God telling us to pay attention to all that stands before us. “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of Adonai your God; the curse if you disobey the commands of Adonai your God and turn from the way that I command you by following other gods, which you have not known.” The “commandments” are the ways in which we build a community and celebrate life. We refer to this as “derekh eretz – the path to walk in the world.” “Other gods” refer to the choices we make that destroy relationships and communities; turning away from the pursuit of celebration.
We do not believe that God ordains blessings or curses; superstition makes us blame or credit God. Every day – we confront the choice between blessings and curses. Too often, we treat them as though they are the things that happen to us. The reality is that a lot of things (good and bad) happen to us but whether or not they are a blessing or curse is up to us. Even in the most difficult of situations, we decide what to do with what we have. People emerge from the greatest of trauma and still affirm the blessing of survival and a greater appreciation for life and the people with whom they share life. People with horrific disabilities will cherish every moment they breathe. Others, when faced with the greatest of opportunities squander them and miss out on amazing blessings. Good and bad are, at best, relative terms. As Torah teaches in choosing between the blessing and the curse, we choose between life and death. We affirm the blessings of spirit and celebration or condemn ourselves to a life of ailment and depression.
In every case, Torah commands us to choose life and blessing. I have experienced the most incredible and most challenging events over my 58 years. If you know me, though, you know that my greeting … everyday greeting is, “I am blessed every day.” I choose life. Whatever you find on your plate, think about how some way in which you can see your situation can help you grow – and join me in choosing life. Shabbat shalom.