Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.
-Edgar Allen Poe
From "A Soul's Journey: Meditations on the Five Stages of Spiritual Growth" by Rabbi Terry Bookman:
There are three times as many curses as there are blessings. Sort of like the news on television. Twenty-nine minutes of all the evil in the world and then one last human-interest story about a kind deed or someone giving birth to quadruplets. Perhaps we like to hear the bad news. We find it more interesting.
But there is a lesson here. We thought we could live our lives with relative impunity. We thought that our decisions affected ourselves and only ourselves. We thought that religion was a private matter. Our Torah comes along to remind us that no decision, no action we take is without consequence. We may not realize those consequences right away. They may escape our attention or not figure significantly into our patterns of daily living. But the Torah is emphatic on this point. A life of mitzvot
, a life lived with God, is blessed. A life trying to escape our Jewish covenantal relationship, no matter what it may look like on the outside, is cursed.
Cursed. It sounds harsh, but is it not true? Don't we see the signs all around us? Lives lived without meaning. Drifting from one trend, one partner, one fad to the next. Empty lives trying to fill ourselves up with new and expensive toys - cars, clothes, drugs, vacations...But no matter how many toys we buy, we never have quite enough; someone else seems to have beaten us to the latest one. Lives lived in the 'Temple of Self,' dedicated to our bodies, making them tighter, more youthful, less wrinkled and gray. Not out of love or self or desire for health and well-being; rather out of some neurotic compulsion, which the mirror never satisfies and never can. Lives centered around appearances, around looking good rather than being good, always worried about what they
will say, about what they
are thinking, just as our conversations are filled with them
. Lives in which we are never enough, no matter how much we do. Lots of leisure, but no rest, no peace, Lots of parties, but no celebration, no joy. Lots of drugs and alcohol, but no real highs. No sense that what we do really matters. Children who are strangers, spouses without intimacy, so-called friends whom we cannot really trust, who take sides when our marriages end. These are some of our curses. And they are all around us.
But it does not have to be that way. We are not condemned to such a life. It is never too late. We can stop the music and dance to a different beat. We may feel awkward at first. We may feel that we are giving up too much, sacrificing all that we have, all that we know. It may look dull and boring, as if we were becoming all that we resisted, all that we thought we would never be. But here is where true blessing lies, in a life centered around what God wants for us, not in what we want for ourselves. Blessing requires that we take ourselves out of the center and restore God to that rightful place. Blessing is about correcting the balance, putting things in order, shifting priorities, and setting limits. This is not loss of self. It is about finding self, our true self, the self that God meant us to be.
Blessings abound when we attempt to order our lives around what God wants for us. Our lives make sense. There is richness to the fabric, harmony between the parts. Knowing who we are and where we belong brings connection and rootedness. The hand of God, placed gently on our shoulder, lovingly leads us forth. We are blessed so that we can bless, so that our lives become a blessing. And because each of us is unique, no two lives will be exactly the same. We will all hear and respond differently, sharing what we know with others on the path. Just the way God meant us to be.