Friday, August 18, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Re’eh 5777–Between the Mountains

 וְהָיָה כִּי יְבִֽיאֲךָ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּה בָא־שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ וְנָֽתַתָּה אֶת־הַבְּרָכָה עַל־הַר גְּרִזִּים וְאֶת־הַקְּלָלָה עַל־הַר עֵיבָֽל

When the L”RD your G”d brings you into the land that you are about to enter and possess, you shall pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal

I thought our ancestors were wiser than that. If you believe in Divine authorship of the Torah, then I amend that to: I thought G”d was smarter than that. Or…maybe it’s not as dumb as it seems, Read on.

It’s exactly this sort of black and white thinking that resulted in thousands of years of Judaism shaping itself to accommodate the reality that is reality. It’s messy. It’s liminal. It’s fuzzy.  Few things are easily categorized as only one thing, one type. In fact, I’ve remarked before how Judaism is the faith of balance, of finding the path to navigate through so many seemingly opposite things. Our tradition has sought to preserve a diversity of opinions. Often, the answer to “does Judaism say…” is “yes, no, and maybe.”

Millennia of history have demonstrated to us that things that appear to be blessings can also be curses, and vice versa. The world of blessing and curse has its own yetzer tov and yetzer hara (good and evil inclinations) and finding the balance is key.

Balaak’s desire to curse the Israelites became Bilaam’s blessings of the Israelite people. There’s at least an inkling there of the idea that blessing and curse are but two sides of the same coin – and a coin can’t exist without both sides.

Grumble about there not being enough to eat, and G”d sends you quail to excess.

An excess of caution can lead to stagnation. Stagnation, perhaps, can inspire a bored someone to try something new.

A parched person could cause self-harm by too quickly and in too much quantity drinking when it is finally available. Similarly – you can drown in water or sand!

It wasn’t until 1600 that Shakespeare finally put the idea of excess as a curse into the by now well-worn phrase “too much of a good thing.”

The Besht (Baal Shem Tov) spoke of finding and liberating the small kernel of good hidden inside evil.

It is easy to think of things that are both blessings and curses. Diamond mines. Oil fields. Abundance. Scarcity. Modern medicine. Gene therapy. Smartphones. Computers. The internet. Religion. I suspect that almost everything in this universe has the potential to be blessing or course. For those things which we can utilize and manipulate, we exercise some control over whether they are blessing or curse. For those things that are beyond our control, how we react and respond to them can determine how much of a blessing or curse they are,

Adversity can build strength. Wealth can create moral poverty. Familiarity breeds contempt. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Sometimes, being stubbornly positive in trying to turn every curse into a blessing can wind up with negative consequences.  At other times, being stubbornly pessimistic and finding the worst in every blessing can result in a positive result. It’s a circle. A cycle. Two sides of that same coin.

Mitchell Chefitz tells a story called “The Curse of Blessings” (the title story in a published collection of ten stories.) It’s a wonderful illustration of how curses and blessings are intertwined. If you search for it by googling “The Curse of Blessings” you will find a few sites with versions of the story to read (though perhaps better you should buy the book

I won’t retell the story here because I recalled  it just today as I was writing this musing and haven’t had time to ask for permission. (I’m hopeful that places I found on the web where the story is retold had Mitch’s permission to use it.  I urge you to read the story, and believe at least two of the only sources were likely done with permission, but I can’t vouchsafe for any of them, so let your conscience be your guide.)  In the story, a man is cursed with having to say a new blessing every day or he will die. I’ll say no more, as the story has a great O Henry-esque twist

All in all, the Torah making this very kind of assertion – that blessings are of one type, and curses of another, is exactly the kind of challenge that enables us to turn a curse into a blessing (or a blessing into a curse.)

So maybe, what appears to be a curse – the challenge of black and white thinking, the idea that blessings are one mountain and curses are another, is actually a blessing. To extend the metaphor fully, what path did the Israelites follow when entering the promised land? They went through the middle, the valley between Mount Gerizim (the blessing) and Mount Ebal (the curse.) In this one little verse of Torah is a microcosm of life, the universe, and everything.

Shabbat Shalom,

© 2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Re'eh 5775 - Think Marx, Act Rashi. Think Rashi, Act Marx (Redux/Revised 5772)
Re'eh 5774 - Our Own Gifts (Redux 5761)
Re'eh 5773 - Here's a Tip
Re'eh 5772 - Think Marx, Act Rashi? Think Rashi, Act Marx?
Re'eh 5771 - Revisiting B'lo L'sav'a
Re'eh 5770 Meating Urges
Re'eh 5766-Lo Toseif V'lo Tigra
Re'eh 5765--Revised 5759-Open Your Hand
Re'eh 5761--Our Own Gifts
Re'eh 5760/5763--B'lo l'sav'a
Re'eh 5759--Open Your Hand
Re'eh 5757/5758--How To Tell Prophet From Profit

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