In Parshat Ki Tavo, we’re given two paths of consequence, that of prosperity and that of hardship.
“If you listen to Hashem your Gd, to observe faithfully all His commandments which I give to you this day, Hashem your Gd will set you high above all the nations of the earth1...Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country 2...Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl3...Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings4...”
Then comes the negative consequences:
“But if you do not listen to Hashem your Gd to observe faithfully all His commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day, all these curses shall come upon you and take effect5...Cursed shall you be in the city and cursed shall you be in the country6...Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl7...Cursed shall you be in your comings and cursed shall you be in your goings8...”
This might sound familiar. We’ve already received such messages at least twice before.
The following is related in Parshat Eikev:
“And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, Hashem your Gd will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers...He will favor you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil9…”
“If you do forget Hashem your Gd and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish...like the nations that Hashem will cause to perish before you, so shall you perish—because you did not heed Hashem your Gd10...”
And again in Parshat Bechukotai:
If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments11...I will grant your rains in their season12...I will grant peace in the land...You shall give chase to your enemies13…
But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments…14...I will wreak misery upon you—consumption and fever15...I will set My face against you16...I will break your proud glory17...
The Torah is clearly trying to tell us something.
It can certainly be read as a recipe for success: here is how you achieve success in business, here is how you achieve health and happiness. Yet, it does not read like a self-help book. It is not a list of strategies and advice. If thou wants to succeed in business, “buy low and sell high.” If though wants a good marriage, “bring flowers once a week and listen without offering advice. Rather, the Torah here seems to be conveying to us a hack, a cheat code, for navigating this world. The Torah wants us to understand that success in life is not about doing everything right. It is about a perspective change.
There are two perspectives I have seen (and experienced) for how to approach life. The first is where we try to make the world exactly how we want it. We exert ourselves in an effort to make everything conform to our scripts, positioning the characters, setting the background. Often our efforts are even towards good and holy things. But here we are only satisfied, happy, and comfortable when life conforms to our expectations. We see ourselves against the world. We are the crafter and it is our clay.
However, we can choose another path, another perspective. We realize that life (Hashem) is the crafter and we are the clay. We come to understand that we can no more control life than the wind and so, instead of throwing ourselves against it impossibly, we transcend. We come to see life not as a means of conquest but as a method towards freedom. We see every setback, every trigger and struggle, not as a confirmation of our failure in life, but rather as a point where life is teaching us.
What is it teaching us? It is teaching us that if we are connecting to Hashem, if we quiet ourselves enough to hear Him, then everything else works out. We actually get for free the very thing everyone else is worrying and striving towards: peace, security, joy, connection.
We can feel this very clearly when we allow ourselves to touch the moment. There is a traditional Zen Buddhist meditation where one simply asks oneself, “what is the moment lacking?” When we ask these words we then allow ourselves to observe that voice of dissatisfaction within. Is it hungry? Is it thirsty? Is it tired? We come to see that it is not really lacking anything, it is simply dissatisfied and it will continue to be until we stop trying to tame it with food and distractions and money and validation. It will only be quiet when we see it is just a voice. In the moment there is no lack. In the moment there is no judgment. In the moment there just is. Hashem is projecting reality into existence and we have only a single point beyond the boundaries of time and space, a single needlepoint of experience, where we can relate to Him. Whenever we aren’t there we are simply in a world of our own creation.
We then come to understand that, as Eckhart Tolle teaches in the Power of Now, there is truly nothing outside of the moment. Even when our minds are in the past, we are doing our thinking in the present moment. The same holds for the future. We worry forward but we deal with the worries in the present. That means that the only power we have is NOW. The only agency we have is NOW. How do we expect to solve our problems if our minds are constantly living in the future, away from the one place problem-solving can actually take place?
Living a life where we are trying to mold the clay to fix this dissatisfaction and fear is like trying to put out a fire with wood. We think we can solve our problems by controlling reality. We think that if only we worry and plan and craft enough, then we will quiet that little voice inside. As long as we are trying to fix the world to fix ourselves, we will remain forever broken, forever victims of circumstance. We are like drug addicts thinking that all we need is one more hit and that hole within will be filled. All we need is that job and partner and house and then we will be “successful”.
Rather we must summon courage and commit ourselves to the moment, to Hashem, to playing by His rules, because they are the only rules there are. We must draw ourselves into the present moment.
Ironically, what happens then is that we become true crafters, artists creating from love and passion not fear and anger. Then the world becomes our clay. Then we fulfill our purpose in being partners in creation. When we no longer try to control out of fear and dissatisfaction but look to build out of love, out of the deepest, truest expression of ourselves, then we actually craft. Then we become truly successful, not only spiritually, but in the physical world as well. We flow. We inspire. We channel divine light into everything we do, from business to prayer to sitting in traffic. And we are always satisfied.
That is the cheat code. We transcend when we stop listening to our mind’s lies. When something does not mold properly to our expectations, our mind tries to fix it by worrying and planning and angering. Instead, we must let go. Instead, we must see that this is exactly the moment when we have a chance to carve a piece of that worry and anger out of us forever. Draw yourself into the present moment and ask yourself why you have consented to give the world the right to make you feel dissatisfied. “If you listen to Hashem your Gd, to observe faithfully all His commandments which I give to you this day, Hashem your Gd will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” If we choose to let life free us instead of trapping us, then we truly fly high.
- Devarim: 28:1
- Devarim: 28:3
- Devarim: 28:5
- Devarim: 28:6
- Devarim: 28:15
- Devarim: 28:16
- Devarim: 28:17
- Devarim: 28:21
- Devarim: 7:12-13
- Devarim: 8:19-20
- Devarim: 26:3
- Devarim: 26:4
- Devarim: 26:6-7
- Devarim: 26:14
- Devarim: 26:16
- Devarim: 26:17
- Devarim: 26:21