Do you remember Leo Buscaglia? He was a psychologist and self help guru in the eighties who preached love and self-acceptance. He was famous for encouraging people to hug each other. While his time in the limelight has long since past, he did say some memorable things. One I remember and believe to be true is his secret of happiness. He said that the key to being happy is remembering that no matter one's circumstances, how old one is or how marginalized, one can always make a difference! We need to remember that we can always make a difference!
I was reminded of Buscaglia's insight when I reviewed the parsha of this week, that of B'chukotai. The parsha contains two very different themes. The first is G-d's detailed revelation to us of the consequences of mitzvah observance. The Torah, we are told, is not optional. We are mandated to keep her and uphold her requirements.
Observe the commandmants and we are promised in the reading great bounty and blessing. Fail to observe, stray from the law, and we will suffer horrific consequences including the most severe penalty,exile from our land.
And then the Torah moves to a totally other theme as it closes out the book of Vayikra, the third book of the Torah. The Torah gives us the laws of 'arichin', 'valuations', in which it details how much money we need give to the Temple if we pledge our value to the holy. The Torah discusses a person's 'worth' in this context as dependent on gender and age. The range is from 50 shekel for a man in his prime to 3 shekel for a female child under five.
The question that begs asking is what is the meaning of the flow of themes here?
What is the connection between the laws of valuation with which we end the reading and the promises and admonishments of the verses prior?
I suspect here Leo might say is a Torah text that supports his truth. Let me explain.
What is central to the story of the punishment and reward is that both the good and the bad that befall us have little to do with our personal behavior. There is no clear correlation between our individual fate in this world and our relative goodness. The righteous man or woman may have terrible calamaties and the wicked man or woman may know a life of ease and success. Tradition has long taught that the consquences of our deeds will, in most instances, not be felt until the next world, 'olam haba'.
The great blessing of Torah adherence promised in the reading here is for a nation that is true to its faith. And similarly the tragedies instore for us are meant for if/when we fail as a people to live up to our charge. G-d is talking to Israel, the nation. Yes, as individuals we have acountability to live a devout life, but here when we speak of the blessings and the curses we are speaking of the fate of a people. What happens to us as persons is part of Israel's story. And even if we are personally without fault our dye is cast with the people to whom we belong, both for the good and for the bad.
If a person feels s/he cannot impact his/her circumstances and the circumstances of others s/he feels powerless. S/he belongs. S/he is part of the group. But the price paid is a heavy one. S/he must endure the fate of the group and s/he cannot change the outcome. As Buscaglia surmised, every person needs to feel s/he can make a difference, at least some difference, at least effect some consequent. Even if we are receiving the blessings promised, if we, as inviduals, can in no way effect what happens we feel powerless and compromised. The blessings lose their taste.
It is for this reason the Torah gives us the laws of valuations following the 'tochacha', the detailed account of reward and punishment. As powerless as we are as individuals to change the fate of the nation, and as much as our fate is tied to our people, we still can make a difference. We are yet incredably powerful as persons to effect the holiness and the sanctity of the world around us. With our words alone we can sanctify objects to the Temple so much so that if anyone used them for personal purposes after we made them holy the consequence for them is severe. Moreover each of us, no matter our life station, has value vis a vis the sacred. To pledge my value to the Temple or the value of someone else is to make a commitment. We may not be able to change the fate of a nation but each of us has worth and can make an impact.
Each of us needs to feel we make a difference. Those who study the aged have long found that a very high percentage of them live with depression. It's not that they lack anything in their life. They are not grieving losses or made unhappy by pain.
They are simply showing the consequences of living while feeling one no longer makes a difference. Depression is a natural outcome.
And young people, our children, who often evidence anger and rebellion, despite having it all, what do they lack? Anger is often the flip side of depression and a result of a lingering sadness. May I suggest that here too the young are expressing the feeling of powerlessness over the sense of not being able to make a difference.
Yes, they have it all. But just as the parsha taught, even when we receive blessings, if we feel we do not make a difference we feel compromised.
Do our children make a difference to us? How? Do they know they make a difference?
We need to give our children more opportunity to feel we need them! And we need to let ourselves as parents experience the vulnerability of needing!
Sometimes you are given something complete, perhaps a theory or a even a Torah thought. It is seamless and all the components fit together. You can find no flaws in the presentation. But yet you have this feeling that something just isn't right. Truth is you could break your head trying to find the part that doesn't fit and you will not succeed.
The question you need to ask yourself about the material is "What's missing?"
"What's missing" is a question that will undo many an otherwise perfect presentation.
We live in a world of great prosperity. We, as Jews, have unparelleled wealth and security. Yet we live with depression and its children, addiction, self destructive behavior, divorce etc. Instead of looking for whats wrong with what we have, we might do better to ask "What's missing?"
May I suggest, as Leo might have, and as I believe the Torah does this Shabbat, what's missing is the sense that we make a difference. And we do! No, more, we make an absolute and unique difference!
I don't know you. I don't know anything about you...save one thing. I know,
You make a difference!