He is not cursed – he is blessed

Friday, 29 December, 2023 - 5:54 am

Everybody agrees that when a child is caught lying, one doesn’t say to him: “You’re a liar.” Rather, one says: “You lied.”

Why? That’s pretty obvious. You don’t want to label the child as a liar, but rather to talk about the lie. You don’t want to speak about the child, but about his deeds. You mainly want him to know to differentiate between the “I” and “my actions”. You know that when he remembers all the time that he is good and worthy and honest and correct, then there is a chance he will change his ways, whether in regard to lying, as an example, or any other negative behavior.

You know as well that if he identifies himself with his deeds, then there is a good chance that he will despair of making any change, because he will feel that “Again, I remain a liar, I remain a cheat. Again, I am not good, not worthy. I don’t fit in,” with the emphasis on “I”. If he remembers that it is not him, but rather his deeds, if he will know to say to himself, “I am good and worthy; my actions are not,” there is a better chance that he will rectify his ways. 

And not only actions – traits as well. A person who thinks that he is irritable, or quick to anger, if he defines himself as such, the chance that he will change and mend these traits is smaller than that of a person who will know to say to himself, “I am a good person, created by the Holy One, Blessed Be He; it’s just a pity that I get angry too easily. I am a worthy person, the crown of Creation, but, unfortunately, quick to anger.” The latter’s chances of succeeding in making a change will be much, much greater.

And before you tell me that these is coaching- and New Age-speak, I wish to quote Yaakov’s words to his sons when he blessed them before his demise, an event we will read about tomorrow in the Torah reading, Parashat Vayechi:

Shimon and Levi are severely reprimanded by their father Yaakov. For a moment you wonder whether this is a blessing or the opposite. Yaakov Avinu doesn’t mince words and the climax is the passuk beginning with the word “Cursed…”: “Cursed be their anger, for it is most fierce, and their fury, for it is most cruel. I will divide them up in Yaakov and scatter them in Yisrael.” He condemns their fierce anger, in other words, furious in their anger. And then Rashi comes, and chooses particularly at this point to sweeten the statement: “Cursed be their anger, for it is most fierce – even when he was rebuking them, he cursed only their anger.” Wow. It is a time of rebuke, and Yaakov curses – but not them, not the good boys, rather their character traits. A boy is not cursed – he is blessed. What is cursed is the trait of anger.

Have you understood this?

A moment before one rebukes a child or any other person – and, if you ask me, the most important is the moment before a person engages in self-flagellation – he should stop for a moment and remember that he is not cursed – he is blessed. It is his deeds, or perhaps a habit that he has adopted that is cursed.

May we be successful in becoming better people!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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