Expanding our Blessings
“And God will open the great storehouse, the heavens, to provide rain for your land in season and to bless all your undertakings…you will be at the top and not on the bottom.”
We are touched by the desire of God to bless us. We all too well understand the necessity of abundant rain. But the closing of the blessing is bemusing-isn’t it obvious if we are on the top, we won’t be on the bottom? What great lessons are hidden in these superfluous words?
Perhaps we can explain this verse with an insight from the renowned Chassidic Master, Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin. In the Book of Chronicles (I:4:10), we find a prayer uttered by a leader called Ya’avetz.
וַיִּקְרָ֣א יַ֠עְבֵּ֠ץ לֵאלֹהֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל לֵאמֹ֗ר אִם־בָּרֵ֨ךְ תְּבָרְכֵ֜נִי וְהִרְבִּ֤יתָ אֶת־גְּבוּלִי֙
“If you will bless me and extend my borders…”
Why does he ask for both a blessing and an extension?
Rav Tzadok explains: We often see people who merit unbelievable blessing and bounty but don’t know how to handle it. They need to be equipped. They are not prepared to benefit.
We see this quite often among Lotto winners, entertainers, and athletes.
Unaccustomed to handling such wealth, we’ve seen lotto winners lose their newfound wealth in short time. Sometimes, they’re even poorer and in worse shape than before they won.
Likewise, we’ve seen numerous entertainers rise to great heights only to be dragged down by addiction and scandal.
Many of today’s athletes come from the humblest of beginnings, and their wealth is easy come, easy go. It is also not uncommon to see these stars do the most self-destructive things on social media.
Fame, wealth, and influence are blessings, but one needs the capabilities to use these gifts positively.
The rabbis explain that this was the prayer of Ya’avetz. “If you bless me, whatever it may be, please also expand me as a person. Expand my capacity so that I can make use of my new gifts.
How does one expand their capabilities? The Talmud [Temurah 16a] elaborates on Ya’avetz’s prayer: “If you bless me with Torah, you should expand my borders with students.” The way one becomes a more capable person and grows as an individual is by giving to others. “If You grant me all these insights into your Torah, give me disciples to share them with. Through teaching, not only will others gain, but my comprehension will also increase.”
The Torah teaches us that our capacities increase as we focus outward. Anyone privileged to have children can certainly attest that we change as parents. We grow from the experience of parenthood. We can no longer remain only concerned about ourselves. Because our children need us, we broaden to meet their needs. This is the blessing of expanded borders.
We see this principle in 12-step groups. Once a person becomes familiar with the program, they’re immediately made someone’s sponsor. They can maintain their discipline because they’re providing others with the lessons they imbibed, which innately makes them stronger.
Similarly, when I was 33 years old, a musical Havdalah service inspired me and made me want to learn guitar. I barely had six months of lessons when my guitar teacher put me on stage with a short Chanukah performance. I did not feel ready, but I didn’t embarrass myself. My teacher followed Ya’avetz’s dictum: if I’m blessed with music, I need to share it with others.
Likewise, service is probably one of our synagogue’s greatest gifts to its officers. People spend seemingly endless hours planning for the high holidays, the calendar, fundraisers, our building maintenance, religious school education, programming, accounts and receiving, and much more. It appears as though they are only giving, but by focusing outward, they are also expanding their borders, increasing their capabilities, and growing as human beings.
The Torah promises we will be on the top, not the bottom. The gifts of wealth, success, and fame can raise or degrade a person. We ask God not only for blessings but also for us to be able to handle and sustain them. One way to increase our capacities is to share our blessings with others. By turning our horizons outwards, we expand our borders. We help others and ourselves at the same time.
Cheers to being on the top!
By the way, our musically gifted members will share their skills with us this Friday night at 7:30 PM for a Musical Shabbat in honor of the High Holidays and Ian and Noah Cangemi’s B’nei Mitzvah. Please join us for hors d’oeuvres and socializing at 7:00 PM.