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Shades of Gray

Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

"See I put before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). This is a poignant phrase from a densely evocative section of the Torah. What is a curse? What is a blessing? Why is so much of life an enigmatic mixture of the two?

When you have a pain in your elbow, you are in discomfort and want the pain to go away. But the pain is your body's way of telling you there is a problem. Maybe there's an inflammation, a cyst, or something worse. If you don't experience any pain, you would not go to the doctor to find out what is wrong, and the problem could escalate or be fatal. So the next time you feel a pain, say "Thank God I feel pain!" Because if you didn't feel the pain, you'd be in for a worse problem.

Life has many situations that seem bad on the surface, but a deeper look reveals a true benefit.

We can't be short-sighted or superficial. We need to always be on the lookout for a benefit hidden within a problem. That's part of being wise - looking past the surface.

In some ways, the nature of the universe forces an illusion of God's non-existence. He is hidden, though He permeates everything. This is the way He designed it. We don't automatically recognize Him. However by looking for Him, we gain merit. By working out intellectually how there has to be an Infinite Creator, we develop a more personal and more powerful understanding of God than if it were given to us without any work.


Millions of people want to win the lottery. They devise strategies, examine dreams, and spend lots of money trying to win. Superficially they think of the lottery as the ultimate blessing, more money than they would know what to do with. But is winning really a blessing? There is a higher rate of divorce and suicide among lottery winners. Many go through all the money quickly and even wind up in debt. A windfall of money that you did not earn, and find difficult to acclimate to, can be a very stressful challenge.

These winners start elated and delirious - and then as time wears on, they find that their character hasn't changed. They are not better, wiser or more likable. But many people are now making stressful demands on them. Their "old friends" start showing up asking for financial favors. They don't know who of their "new friends" they can trust at all. If they weren't responsible before being wealthy, money just provides more opportunities with which to be irresponsible.

Wisdom comes from looking deeper into life. Don't judge things on appearance or by how your body reacts. Your body reacts well to chocolate cake. (You get excited and salivate.) But who says it's healthy? Maybe it's the wrong thing for you to eat. By nature, our bodies react to stimulation. Our mind has to take the reigns and decide what to do about the desires of the body.


The world is purposely confusing. A path before you is rarely black and white. It is more often shades of gray. Look around and you'll see people doing things that they think are wonderful, and you think is terrible. Suicide bombers think they're doing a holy act.

It takes wisdom to discern what is taking you toward God, and what is pulling you away from Him. What is bringing more light into the world, and what is bringing more darkness.

Look past the surface. Think. It's the only way.

Spiritual Exercise:

Pick one good deed you've done recently, and ask yourself if there was any aspect of the deed that could have been done differently and better.


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