The famous Rabbi Yehudah Halevi (1075-1141) in his magnum opus the Kuzari discusses the difference between Judaism and other religions. He asks – “why doesn’t the Torah stress the reward awaiting the righteous in the world to come.” Instead, the Torah goes out of its way to mention at length the reward one receives in this physical world. On the other hand, on a Pshat level (simple) understanding of the verses it totally ignores the world to come. (Despite the fact the world to come is discussed at length in our oral and Rabbinic traditions.)
Here are some small examples of the reward in this word as it is outlined by the Torah:
“I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:8
“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them-then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land. I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land. Leviticus 26:3-6
“That He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Deuteronomy 11:14
We see from the above verses how the Torah stresses the reward for following the right path of life as a blessing in this world and particularly a materialistic blessing in the land of Israel. Rabbi Yehudah Halevi goes on to explain that a person who lives a true spiritual life connected to Hashem can achieve a closeness to the world to come while living in this world. This is exactly what prophesy is all about. Through the true prophets of Israel the people of Israel were in constant connection with the upper world while living a physical life in this world. Angels were walking amongst them. This is what the Temple is all about a center of Divine prophecy and worship where this world and the upper worlds combine. This is what the meaning of the dream of Jacob is all about. (See Genesis 28:12)
Rabbi Kook (1865-1935) explains that this is the reason why during the first temple period there was no stress on the world to come since miracles and prophecy would take place every day. It was so natural for the nation to feel a spiritual connection with Hashem in this world. Therefore, there was no need to focus on life after death. However, during the second Temple period and throughout the 2000 year exile when prophecy stopped and miracles were not common anymore the nation felt the need of focusing on the world to come. There was a spiritual vacuum that needed to be filled. When the sun is shining strong there is no need for a candle to give light. Only when darkness is prevalent then the need for a candle is felt.
The famous Rabbi Meir Leibush Weiser (1809-1879) known as the Malbim in his commentary on this week’s portion Re’eh opens his commentary by explaining that until the portion of Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26) the Torah mentions at length the reward for those abiding by the Mitzvoth and the punishment for those not fulfilling them. The reward being inheriting the land and living there a successful and peaceful life both materialistically and spiritually. The punishment on the other hand being banished from the land and being tormented and persecuted in the land of the nations. He then brings down the words of Rav Yehudah Halevi and explains that this is exactly the meaning of the opening words of this week’s portion. “Behold, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse” the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of Hashem your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Hashem your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-27)
This is why if you pay attention to the verse we see that the word “today” is mentioned three times. The Torah could have easily mentioned it once. The reason explains the Malbim is that by following the Torah one will merit in seeing the blessing of Hashem in this world today and will not have to wait till he leaves it to experience the Divine.
Here on Itamar, the very location of where this week’s Torah portion takes place this message comes to life more than any other place on earth.
“It shall come about, when the Hahem your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal” Are they not across the Jordan, west of the way toward the sunset, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, opposite Gilgal, beside the oaks of Moreh? (Deuteronomy 11:29-30)
These verses describe my backyard view here on Itamar. The fact that Abraham was sent by Hashem to this very place first (see Genesis 12) and later Joshua (see Joshua 8) shows that this is what life is all about – receiving the blessing today by living a spiritual life through the building and development of land of Israel. This defining moment for the people of Israel was a renewal of the covenant of receiving the Torah in the land. Unlike Mt. Sinai, where Moses was on top of the mountain and the nation below. This time, all 12 tribes of Israel were on top of the mountain six on Gerizim and six on Ebal while the leaders were in the valley. G-D was showing us that here in the land not only the prophets and our spiritual leaders can reach the upper worlds but the people of Israel as well can rise to the top of the mountain and touch the heavens through by a spiritual life and working the precious land of Israel.
Shabbat Shalom and blessings from Itamar Israel Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith