The shell covers the fruit; night precedes day….

The Shelah comments on Tractate Taanit that words are meant to buoy our spirits. Evil precedes and yet is a sign of the coming good. We see in everyday life that the shell covers the fruit; night precedes day. It is from within darkness that light emerges.

If the Almighty had not created this "shell" concealing the good within, our entire reality would have been different. Every thing good would have been tinged with bad. Every fruit would have been a mixture of sweetness and waste, wine mixed with sediment. Ultimately, the Holy One Blessed Be He wished us to have the wine that is "guarded" - free of the sediment that caused the first sin (according to the opinion that the first fruit that Adam ate was the juice of a squeezed grape). That archetypal event changed the world, causing everything to become clouded and dark.

Difficulties push us…to examine our own lives….

This darkness is the foundation for the great light that will follow. This is the secret of the Hebrew word for "And He separated" (Gen. 1:4), hinting to how G‑d extracted the pure light from within the darkness. Consequently, this is the formula of our reality that we are able and must constantly extract good from within the negative. Secondly, we see that our continued exile, the trials we have been forced to face throughout the generations in fact cleanse us, saving us from much more difficult punishments. Difficulties push us to return to proper Jewish living because we are forced to examine our own lives.

The Shelah continues that this is the reason that the first verse of our Torah portion, "You are standing", follows the curses at the end of last week's Torah portion, and ultimately concludes later with "And this is the blessing" (Deut. 33:1). The curses are really blessings, and albeit from a very deep level of concealment, actually for our good. In fact, as we wrote above, they are the source for personal change. Just as when we realize that our own negative deeds are our destruction, and we use this revelation as a springboard to turn to positive deeds, the negatives actually save us and become positive.

Do not let the darkness hold us back…we bring a flow of blessings to the world and all its inhabitants….

Rebbe Michel of Zlotshuv gives more words of encouragement. On a verse later in our Torah reading, it says, "…And you choose life in order that you and your children will live." What is going on here? This is Judaism…we fulfill its commandments to receive a prize? Absolutely not, we do the commandments for G‑d's sake, not for any benefit! Rebbe Michil explains that when we do a mitzvah in the best way, for the sake of G‑d because He commanded us, selflessly, with love, awe, and true intention, then we give that action a spiritual power, a life force that moves to higher and higher levels. Becoming something akin to a shining light, it spreads its effluence of blessings, mercy and life to all beings in the world. This is the inner meaning of the verse that we are commanded to choose life. This is the Jewish message the week before Rosh Hashanah: we should redouble our efforts to do good. Do not let the darkness hold us back. When the Jewish people do the commandments in the best way, we bring a flow of blessings to the world and all its inhabitants. Let us all pray for the arrival of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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