August 13, 2020


8.14.2020 Weekly Torah Portion

What are the blessings and what are the curses that we encounter on a daily basis?  When do we choose blessings over curses?  And when do we choose the opposite?

As a kid, I remember running from my father’s blessings.  Every week during Shabbat services, he would usher me under his talit and hold me tight while the kohanim in the front of the congregation would recite the priestly blessing.  I dreaded it.  For so long I tried to run from him, and I would get so annoyed when he successfully corralled me every week.

As I grew older, my perspective shifted.  I think back to those moments in my father’s arms as one of the most loving and impactful experiences of my life, and I’m so grateful that he didn’t let me say no. Unfortunately, insight and gratitude came years after my attempts at dashing away had elicited the time-honored paternal blessing: “May you have a son just like you!”  (Okay, maybe that one was more of a curse.)  Now that I’m a father, all I want to do is to welcome my son under the talit and embrace him.  And in true parental prophecy, my son runs.

In this week’s parashah, Re’eh, Moses warns the second generation of Israelites leaving Egypt – who will eventually conquer and dwell in the Promised Land – about the potential for blessings and curses on any given day:

See, I set before you, this day blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

Sometimes it sounds like God’s voice in the Torah is just like my father’s.  The options seem pretty clear: either listen to God and do Thy will, and blessings will follow.  Or follow my own discretion and “better judgment,” and curses and destruction will ensue.

Of course, walking down God’s path is a lot harder than it sounds like it should be, and we can all attest to choosing paths of destruction instead of blessings.  I struggle with it daily.

Do I see the blessings in the difficult moments?  Sometimes.

Do I act with patience and compassion when someone I love does something I don’t approve of?  Not nearly enough.

Do I hide and make justifications for not doing what must be done?  All the damn time!

Do I try to control what extends beyond my authority to stay comfortable in my own problems?  Guilty!

So why is it so hard to listen and follow God’s path?  Why can’t I get my act together?

The hard truth is that I continue to play God.  As Rabbi Rami Shapiro highlights about the true dis-ease of addiction:

“…My assumption is that alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive overeating, and any other addictive behavior are physical symptoms of a deeper psychospiritual disease, a state of mind that all humans share. The real disease from which almost all of us suffer is the disease of playing God, of thinking we are or should be in control of what happens to us in life…” (Recovery: The Sacred Art)

I’m still that kid running from my father – only this time it’s the metaphorical Father in Heaven.  And at the same time, I play God by wanting my son to just do what I say and put his shoes on so he can go to school already!  I do exactly what Moses warns not to do, “You shall not act at all as we now act here, every man as he pleases” (Deuteronomy 12:8).

The blessings and curses that Moses sets before the Israelites are actually a ritual that they are to perform once they’ve reached the holy land, which is outlined in a few weeks in Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 27-28).  Moses instructs them to divide the 12 tribes in half – 6 tribes will stand on Mount Gerizim and invoke blessings and the remaining 6 tribes will stand upon Mount Ebal to invoke curses.  For the most part, they highlight the external rewards and punishments of not following a higher path – prosperity of the womb, the soil, the cattle, the city and more.

But what I find it to be lacking is the internal experience.  Personally, I want a new list of blessings and curses to choose from that highlight the internal conflict and the impact of our souls.

So here’s an attempt to craft a few new ones:

May we be blessed to see what Father Greg Boyle calls the “unshakable goodness” in ourselves and in all we encounter.

May we be blessed with endless connection – to our souls, to our loved ones, to community, to the world and our Higher Power.

May we be blessed to live purpose-driven lives full of meaning and significance in every action we take.

May we be blessed with faith that is stronger than our fear.

May we be blessed that our compassion overcomes our anger.

May we be blessed that what unites us shines brighter than what divides us.

May we be blessed to surrender and serve a Higher Power that only has our best interest in mind.

May we be blessed that our suffering is seen and validated. That our brokenness is healed and our dignity is emboldened.

May we be cursed if we highlight and only see the flaws in ourselves and in others.

May we be cursed to dwell in isolation with only broken bridges that disconnect us from everything of importance.

May we be cursed to live a life of the “fuck its,” “why bother,” “who gives a shit,” and “what’s the point?”

May we be cursed with crippling uncertainty that keeps us stuck in our addictions.

May we be cursed with resentment, despair, victimhood, and blaming of others.

May we be cursed and addicted to only seeing that which is different as “other.”

May we be cursed into perpetual servitude of our own egos and false gods that suck our vitality from us.

May we be cursed with unheard complaints, scathing wounds, and perpetual dignity violations.

Even with these reminders, I’m sure I will stray from the path… which is where teshuvah comes in. For me, part of it was honoring my father by naming my son after him.  While Benjamin might run from me, the healing comes when I say to him, “Go get a blessing from Paga” (his grandfather).  And without hesitation, he runs into my dad’s arms and they embrace.

May we always SEE the blessings and run towards them!  And when we choose a different path, may we remember that the shelter and embrace of the Holy Blessing One is always available and inviting us to live in teshuvah – repentance, return and repair.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Joseph