Did you ever have an experience where you up late in the darkness of night tossing and turning in anxiety? Perhaps about a financial problem or a conflict with your boss or co-worker? Then you wake up to the first rays of light. Suddenly, your mind is fills with solutions. What seemed like an insurmountable problem is a call to change something about your life, and you feel rejuvenated.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
We can look at this as this “two sides of the same coin”. There is this one coin – a challenge in life. In the darkness of night, it can seem like an unsurmountable roadblock. Then, then the rays of dawn come, and we see it differently. Suddenly, it’s an invigorating challenge.
The two sides of the same coin are different as night and day, but they are close together as the end of night and beginning of day.
It feels so good when we can make that turn and “flip the coin”. The problem is that sometimes we feel stuck in the darkness. A problem in life persists. Negative and pessimistic thinking take over and lead to anxiety and depression. We need to be optimistic, but what do we do when we can’t find the dawn?
Optimism and pessimism are two worlds that occupy much of Sefer Devarim. They are embodied in these two mountains, Har Eival and Har Gerizim. The Torah describes how we pronounce the blessing and curse upon these mountain tops. One mountain is barren and the other is flourishing with vegetation. These two vastly landscapes lie just across the street from one another.
There are two verses describing the two sides of the street. For the person who serves G-d with joy, the Torah tells us that, “HaShem will open up for you his good storehouse, the heavens, to give unto you the rains in their time and to bless all of the deeds of your hands” (Devarim 28, 12). This person has an unlimited storehouse.
On the other hand, for the person who is pessimistic and does not serve G-d, “the heavens above you will become copper and the earth below you will become iron” (28, 23). All of the curses will befall you “on account of the fact that you did not serve HaShem with joy and a good heart from abundance” (28, 47). These are two versions of the same heavens. One is an unlimited storehouse, and the other is a barren wasteland.
In modern terms, there is the idea of the abundance mindset and scarcity mindset. Abundance mindset means you see opportunities for blessing – the other guys success is not your failure. In the scarcity mindset, resources are very scarce – so you’d better be concerned when the other guy gets ahead!
A friend of mine was remarking that when he became president of a Jewish organization, he got a frantic call from a friend of his who is a president of a different organization. “Please don’t take our donors,” this friend begged him. Catch my drift?
Long before the modern articulation of the abundance and scarcity mindset, Judaism gave us the conceptual background for these ideas. G-d has deep pockets and an unlimited storehouse if we want to see it. The real challenge comes when our problems persist, and we don’t feel blessing on the horizon.
Simcha is not a common term in the Torah. Yet, appears three times in Ki Tavo (in addition to the appearance of the word Sason, twice). We are commanded to be in a state of joy. The implication is that we can have joy if we only choose it.
Here is a key.
Joy and bitterness are feelings, but they grow from actions. The Torah commands us to separate our First Fruits from the crop and bring them to Jerusalem. We articulate our gratitude to G-d for all of Jewish history that has brought us unto this point.
And you shall rejoice in all of the goodness that HaShem your G-d has given you and your household.(Devarim, 26, 11)
Celebrating the first fruits and articulating the thanksgiving are actions of joy. What are the actions of curse? The Torah describes twelve curses connected to specific prohibitions in the Torah. These twelve sins range from idolatry to moving the boundary of your neighbor to cursing your fellow Jew.
Sinning in Secret
The Rashbam writes that each of these twelve curses are sins that normally take place in private. Moving the boundary between you and your neighbor or causing the blind to be misled on his path are things you try to do when no one else is looking.
In fact, the Rashbam points out that two of the twelve sins – idolatry and striking your fellow – vary and are at times done privately, other times, publicly. In those two curses, the Torah goes out of its way and says, “accursed is the one who does this sin in secret”. Twelve curses for twelve secret sins. Sins done in secret need to be addressed by G-d, as a court cannot address them.
But when do we sin in private? When we feel that we have been robbed – we were cheated, and so we will cheat the system. When someone is blind, we will knock them off their course, or we will move the fence between our property and the property of the neighbor.
How Do We Get There From Here?
Think back to those verses about the heavens. Are they a good storehouse or a barren field of copper? The answer is ours. If we want the world of abundance, our view of the world grows from our actions.
The farmer who takes the physical steps of designating the first fruit, bringing it to Jerusalem, recalling all G-d’s praises, from the days of his ancestors through his own life. He has now created the fertile soil from which his or her abundance view can grow.
On the other hand, there is that bitter person who takes that fence and pushes it over a little bit to claim some of the land that you were denied. They feel that the world is just unfair – it’s all rigged against them. They take a bitter action and then their world just becomes more bitter.
The Torah helps us understand why abundance is possible. G-d has deep pockets, and the possibility for blessing is endless. But the Torah also gives us the framework for moving from curse to blessing. It starts with the Bikkurim, the declaration of thanksgiving. The way that we talk is so important. When the world seems dark, one of the things that we can do is think about how we talk.
I have a friend who is a CEO of an apparel company who visits Portland often. It seems like I am always meeting him in the darkness of an early morning before Shacharit here at the Shul to learn. Every time that I tell him about some challenge in the community, he always comes back with some idea about what a great opportunity that challenge is.
He is a successful person, but a key is that he talks abundance. We have to think about how we talk about our lives. The words that we utter have the potential to help us make that inner switch.
Gift of the Torah
Modern day researchers – Brene Brown for example – write about the importance of gratitude for mental health. Yet, Judaism gives us the parameters and structure to express thanksgiving and optimism in our lives.
Whether the Pesach Seder or the 100 blessings we make every day, as Jews our lives are filled with optimistic words. Our Brachos are a trickle of light into our lives. They are an opening of optimism.
The next time that you face a dark night challenge, consider the words of hope and optimism that you can utter – for your own sake or for others. When you do so, you will find that the light of dawn will rise.
Then you can see the good storehouse G-d has made for you.