Rabbi Daniel Stein
Rabbi Daniel Stein

Our Ego, Our Time, Our Year - Our Decision

The opening pasuk in Parshas Re'eh states, "Re'eh anochi nosein lifneichem hayom berachah u'klalah - See that I have placed before you today a blessing and a curse" (Devarim 11:26). This passuk hints to a number of choices that are presented to us, not only regarding the mitzvos and their performance, but also concerning our ego, our time, and the new year, which all share a common scheme.

The meforshim wonder why the Torah uses the word "anochi - I" as opposed to the more familiar "ani." The Maor Vashemesh explains in the name of the Maggid of Zlotchov that the word "anochi" represents not only the word "I" but more precisely our "anochiyus," our ego. Similarly, in Parshas Vaeschanan when Moshe informs Bnei Yisrael, "anochi omeid bein Hashem uveineichem - I will stand between you and Hashem" (Devarim 5:5), he was not only referring to the fact the he would literally serve as the liaison between Hashem and the Jewish people, but also to the notion that often the primary obstacle standing in between ourselves and Hashem, impeding our ability to connect with Hashem, is our "anochi" our ego. The further we tread into the abyss of self-congratulation the more difficult it can be to identify potential areas for personal and religious growth.

Even though an inflated ego can hinder our ability to serve Hashem properly, self-awareness and self-confidence are necessary to achieve any measure of spiritual success. Rav Tzadok Hakohen (Tzidkas Hatzadik) writes that "just as a person must have emunah - belief in Hashem, a person ought to have emunah - belief in himself." In order to lead a life dedicated to Torah and mitzvos, a person must know that his life is meaningful and consequential and that his existence and accomplishments have an infinite value to Hashem and to himself. Indeed, Rav Aharon Kotler (Mishnas Rebbi Aharon) claims that the prohibition against mutilating and defacing our bodies even while mourning (Devarim 14:1) is a reminder and reflection of our inherent and limitless self-worth. Without this awareness it is impossible to execute the mitzvos of the Torah. For this reason, those who publicly behave in a demeaning and degrading fashion are disqualified from testifying in beis din (see Kiddushin 40b and Rambam Hil. Eidus 11:5). Rav Aharon explains that this is because someone who lacks personal dignity will presumably be capable of compromising their integrity as well.

The Maor Vashemesh submits that the pasuk "Re'eh anochi nosein lifneicheim hayom berachah u'klalah," places before us a dilemma concerning our "anochi," our ego. If we utilize our "anochi" to give us the confidence to vigorously and relentlessly pursue an ambitious religious agenda, then it can certainly be a source of blessing. However, if our "anochi" lulls us into a bloated sense of entitlement and satisfaction, content with reveling in the achievements of the past, then it can be a horrible curse. How we use our "anochi" is entirely up to us.

Similarly, Rav Avraham Brum (Likuttei Eish) cites the Alexander Rebbe who interprets the word "hayom" - "today" in this pasuk, as a reference to our time in general. For some, time is an invaluable blessing and for others it is an agonizing curse. For the righteous, who are methodically mastering the library of Torah, and continuously climbing the mountain of Hashem, time is the greatest of all assets and resources. As the Chafetz Chaim once said, "time is not money money is time." Additionally, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro (Zehav Mi'sheba) maintains that the overall relative financial prosperity of American Jewry can be attributed to their benevolence and generosity, as well as their unforgiving and industrious work ethic. However, for those lacking direction and determination, who seek to drift through their existence in this world, time can be the greatest enemy. It is often viewed as a lurking beast which needs to be slain and "killed", or as an obstruction which needs to be "passed" and whittled away. How will we view our time in this world, as a boundless blessing or as an interminable life-sentence? Once again, the decision is all ours.

Finally, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe (Imrei Chaim) suggests that the word "re'eh", spelled "reish, aleph, heh", is an acronym for Elul and Rosh Hashanah, which begin with the letters aleph, reish, and heh. This contention is supported by the Zohar which states that the word "hayom" - "today," refers to "The Day" of Rosh Hashanah, the annual Day of Judgment. The month of Elul and Rosh Hashanah are alluded to in this pasuk because they too can either be exploited as a precious opportunity for reflection and spiritual growth, giving way to a year of blessing and prosperity, or alternatively, they can be viewed as a burdensome inconvenience which simply needs to be tolerated and endured, contributing to and validating an unwanted decree for the coming year, chas ve'shalom. How will we approach Elul and Rosh Hashanah? It is up to us to decide.

This year, Parshas Re'eh introduces the month of Elul and confronts us with many difficult choices and possibilities. How to manage our ego? How to maximize our time? How to formulate a strategy for the Yomim Noraim and the coming year? However, the pasuk, "re'eh anochi nosein lifneichem hayom berachah u'klalah" alerts us to the realization that all of these issues are up to us, they are all in our own hands, and we are advised and encouraged to "choose life" - "u'vacharta ba'chaim" (Devarim 30:19). May we have the strength to choose wisely and may Hashem grant us many years of continuous and limitless berachah and hatzlacha! A gut gebentched yor and a kesivah ve'chasima tovah!

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