Flowing with Milk & Honey
August 27, 2021
By Rus Devorah Wallen

I’m Rus Devorah Wallen, and I’d like to share my T for 2, my Torah thought for two minutes, more or less.

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Savo which means, “When you come.” This refers to when we arrive in the land of Israel that God gives us, we should bring an offering of the first fruits – bikkurim – in gratitude for the inheritance.  The parsha discusses the special fruits that the land of Israel is praised for – wheat, barley, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and everything else. In the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the first fruits would be brought with a Thanksgiving prayer and presented to the priests. It also mentions the famous and frequent phrase regarding this land that flows with milk and honey.  By the way, you may not be aware, but commentators say that the milk is from the almonds, not ruminants, and the honey from dates, not bees.

The parsha discusses tithing and agricultural cycles. However, the emphasis in our portion is the exhortation to keep G-d’s commandments as the Chosen People. We are warned that if we do not follow in G-d’s ways, the opposite of blessings will come about.

This week, Chai Elul is the birthday of the Ba’al Shem Tov and Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe and founder of Chabad. The Alter Rebbe would read the Torah in public. One year, he was away the week of Ki Savo, and another person read the Torah portion containing the curses that would befall the Jewish People if they did not follow the Torah.  His son, Dov Ber, who would become the Rebbe’s successor, was very distraught hearing the reading and fainted.  He was so weakened by this that the rabbis questioned whether he was permitted to fast for the upcoming Holy Day of Yom Kippur. When he was asked, “In previous years you didn’t faint; what happened this year?” The young Dov Ber responded, “When father reads it, I don’t hear the curses.”

There is a way to convey a message, and a way to receive one. We each have a choice. We can share things with people in a way that is “b’ofen haniskabeil” – in a sensitive way that they can hear them.  Content needs safe transmission. At the same time, we can also perceive things in a clear or in a distorted way.  Negative thinking can cause anxious ruminations which are often inaccurate, unhealthy, and self-defeating.  Current science teaches that our perception forms our reality. When we have thoughts regarding our experiences, we can be affected on many levels – body, soul, and mind. According to current neuroscience, the mind does not distinguish between something it imagines and something that it experiences if each of those experiences is embodied and intentional. If we perceive something as dangerous, our body reacts as if it is.  If we can calm and soften our attitude to other options, we can be less reactive. Opening our mind and becoming receptive to seeing possible alternative approaches can bring blessing into things that may appear as curses. This is proven in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, that negative thinking, anxiety, and rumination can diminish our immune response. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “All physicians are in agreement that a joyful and happy state of mind increases physical, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing and assists the healing process.”

Friends of mine have called me unrealistic, a little bit of Pollyanna-ish. When I lived in New York and people would notice the garbage on the ground, I overlooked it in my oblivion. However, I know my positive attitude has helped me get through some challenging times. Looking at the upside of things has its upside. J If we desire, we can train ourselves to overlook at least some of the problems in the world around us. As the quip attributed to Oscar Wilde goes, ““Twixt the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll.  The optimist sees the donut. But the pessimist sees the hole”

We must reframe the rumble and rush, intensity and upheavals occurring throughout the world in a way of recognizing that this is a precursor, and preamble to the best which is yet to come.  May we be able to learn from Rabbi Dov Ber’s example and see the blessings concealed behind the veil. And, may we be worthy of seeing the ultimate fruition of G-d’s blessings, the era of Moshiach.

Rus Devorah Wallen is an accomplished musician, performer, social worker, psychotherapist, and educator.

Flowing with Milk & Honey - Jewish thought of the week graphic