Does frum [observant, strictly observant] equal good fortune? Does it always go right for you if you are religious?
"Behold I give you this day a blessing and a curse. The blessing that you will hearken to the commandments of Hashem your G-d...and the curse if you do not and you stray from the path that I command you today to follow the gods of others…" (Devarim 11:26)
Do you deeply believe and accept these words from the opening verses of this week's Parsha? Are all righteous people blessed and all godless people cursed? Does it actually work that way in the real world?
The truth is that the Talmud states categorically "the reward for Mitzvahs is not in this world at all." Ultimate rewards and accountability are reserved for the world to come. What then is the Torah telling us here?
One answer is that the Torah is teaching us that living a G-dly life is itself a blessing. Leading a life where Hashem's value system is irrelevant is in itself a curse. Virtue is its own reward and the reward for a Mitzvah is in the Mitzvah itself.
Perhaps once upon a time we needed faith to believe this. Today, it is self-evident. In our generation, we see empirically that a life dedicated to Torah values is blessed and, sadly, other lifestyles bring the opposite of blessing in their wake.
Let's examine a few areas in society today and see if we can discern some truth in these verses.
It is now some time since the Jewish community has reached level par with the rest of the world in the divorce statistics. We, too, have passed the one out of three rate [N.B.: Rabbi Sherer lives in England] and virtually every other marriage is ending in divorce. Because of this unacceptably high failure rate, in our many communities we have instituted very successful marriage preparation programs for brides and grooms, which is thankfully making positive inroads.
However, if we look at the observant community, while there are indeed more divorces now than ever before, the rate is still below 10%. Cynics may argue that it is because among religious people there still exists a certain stigma and therefore a reluctance to split so that many people remain in unhappy marriages. I might agree to an extent but I am convinced that there are many positive factors contributing to the higher success rate among observant couples. To name a few: Religious people share common values and aspirations. Many of the things others argue about are not issues of difference among observant individuals. Religious people are far from perfect but, statistically, they mess around a lot less than others. Shalom Bayit is a religious imperative. A happy family life is a social necessity in religious communities. Then there are Mitzvahs which help in tangible ways. Just keeping Shabbos is one mitzvah that brings with it quality family time and togetherness in ways that would have necessitated heroic efforts to achieve otherwise. And, of course, the Mikvah is a Mitzvah that directly impacts on marriages, enhancing the intimate relationship immeasurably.
Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for Jews to have been involved in white-collar crime. Fraud and embezzlement are not things we are proud of. But today, even violent crimes are being perpetrated by Jewish people in a way that was always foreign to our people. Road rage violence, and now even family murders, are today happening in Israel all too often. And there have been some highly publicized cases of Jew on Jew violence in the throughout the western world.
But in the religious community, while white-collar crime is unfortunately not unknown, violent crime is a rarity. In fact, when Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin it sent such shockwaves across the world not only because he was a Jew but precisely because he was a kippah-wearing Jew!
Dennis Prager poses an interesting hypothetical question: If you were walking down a dark alley one night and saw three burly young men wearing leather jackets, sunglasses and chains around their necks you would no doubt be petrified, right? Now what if you were told that these young men had just come from a Bible class. Would you be alarmed or relieved?
Perhaps in other faiths religious fundamentalism breeds violence. With Jews it is the opposite. (OK, I did hear of a case where a fellow in Shul who didn't get an Aliya punched up the Gabbai! But you must admit, that is an exception.)
While drug abuse and HIV/AIDS are not entirely unheard of, they are certainly the exception in religious circles. In the wider community, these scourges of our generation are beginning to affect us too. We are, after all, totally integrated into the fabric of our society. Our degree of susceptibility depends almost entirely on the choices we make in schools and social environments.
Please don't think me smug and condescending about religious people. Obviously, there are no guarantees. Every individual faces the same challenges and choices in life. There are no clones in religious enclaves. And tragedy, G-d forbid, can strike anywhere.
If we are objective, though, we cannot dismiss these tangible pieces of evidence that our Parsha does have a point. That the G-dly way of life is not only a pathway to Paradise in the Hereafter, but is in itself a blessing for us in the here and now.
If we want the blessings of this world for our families and ourselves we should seriously consider a Torah lifestyle. The choice is ours.