This week’s parashah opens with some of the most poignant statements in the Torah. We find Moses, in the final days of his life, exhorting the Israelites to drop their relentless obstinacy and to recognize a reality filled with both blessings and curses.
See, I am placing before you this day a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you will listen to the commandments of G!D, which I am commanding you this day. And the curse, if you do not listen to G!D’s commandments. Deuteronomy 11:26-28
I find this passage incredibly challenging. To start, it’s challenging because of the implication of the direct relationship between adherence or non-adherence to G!D’s commandments and blessings or curses. Moreover, if I’m being honest with myself, it’s even more challenging because it’s not just about the Israelites being urged to recognize the reality they are living in; it also insists that I live with this same awareness. I know this by examining the grammar of the Hebrew text: As Abraham Ibn Ezra, the 11th century biblical commentator states, the first word in the verse (re’eh/“see!”) is written in the singular form to indicate that Moses was addressing each Israelite, as an individual. It’s as if Moses was calling out to each person, telling them to watch and listen, because what he was about to say applied directly to their unique situation. And as I read Moses’ words, he speaks to me and my unique situation.
Being spoken to so directly can be deeply re-assuring, affirming that someone is paying attention to us. At other times, this amount of focused attention can be overwhelming and embarrassing. Similarly, knowing that we are provided with free will – which will impact our life with blessings or curses – can be freeing and empowering or overwhelming and debilitating. For those of us who are avoidant by nature, committing to a specific decision can be brutally painful and scary. I have the tendency to find endless ways to avoid committing to a specific path, even if it’s a path of blessing. This is one of the reasons why I find the starkness of this passage so intimidating. The direction that Moses provides does not leave a lot of room for nuance or subtlety… or does it?
Sforno, the 15th century biblical scholar, comments: “…if we don’t choose the path that leads to blessings, we thereby take the path that leads towards curses. There is not a middle path.” Sforno on Deuteronomy His comments didn’t sit well with me at first. I spend an enormous amount of energy trying to live with a both/and mindset of abundance. However, after studying with a wise Rebbe, I was able to see a new perspective on the Sforno’s comments and the original passage itself. I was able to recognize how some of my efforts to live with a both/and mindset actually result in separation from myself, G!D, and others.
I was reminded that when we accept G!D’s authority, letting go of self-serving attachments (to control, power, pleasure, etc.) and allow our soul to guide us, we are following the path of blessing. Accepting that tough decisions often involve letting go and loss is walking the pathway of blessing. Often trying to figure out how to honor G!D’s authority is not easy, but requires us to surrender our fears in order to take the next right action. Conversely, when we obstinately insist on letting ourselves be led by our self-centered desires, we are following the path of curses. When we procrastinate and avoid committing to a tough decision, for example, we are in fact serving ourselves (managing our fears and discomfort), and that leads us on the pathway of curses. As I understood it this way, recognizing the either/or pathways of blessings or curses has helped me to get unstuck and to live into the more expansive reality of G!D’s bountiful both/and world.