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Blessings, Curses and a Torah Portion that Teaches Us How to See

08/11/2023 08:31:39 AM


There’s a great old bumper sticker I used to see around, which I especially appreciated at this time of year.  “Labor Day,” it read.  “From the folks who brought you the movement.”  For those who don’t know, many of “the folks” who brought us the movement in this country – innovations like the 40-hour work week, safer conditions in factories, and broadly speaking, a campaign in working peoples’ interest for better treatment from their employers and elected officials – many of these folks were Jews.  This was no coincidence, as they were also immigrants.  They were people who understood intimately what it meant to be oppressed… to come from very little.  And who understood above all that remembering the stranger is no abstract theory.  It is our people’s central mandate; something to thirst and fight for, always.

We see that mandate expressed beautifully in this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, in which Moses proclaims to the Israelites: “Re’eh – see, this day I set before you blessing and curse.”  Very quickly, we learn that these are not grand, faraway ideas.  These blessings and curses are followed by specific instructions and reminders as to God’s expectations for the people, What does it mean for them to choose blessing?  This choice is defined by remitting debts and providing for those with no means of providing for themselves.  To return lost property, to remain open-hearted and empathic.  And as ever, to remain true to their festivals and ritual observances. 

These opening words of Re’eh are a precursor to those we will hear at the High Holidays:  “I put before you life and death, good and evil, blessing and curse… Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live.”  Why the repetition?  Perhaps having a chance to hear them now before we hear them again on our day of true reckoning gives these words a chance to live in us.  It is a chance for us to find our own way into that mindset of reflection and to be reminded that in all sorts of small and large ways, the power to create change and to transform life into something better for ourselves and for others, really is in our hands.  It is a chance to reflect on the blessings we cherish in our lives, as well as the modern day curses we witness around us and in some cases, experience all too intimately. 

Hearing these words now also reminds us that making the choices that help us reach for holiness is not a High Holiday moment only, as it were.  That potential belongs to us each and every day.

This Shabbat finds many of us reflecting on yet another phenomenon: HOW is it August already?!  Several parents have commented to me that their children’s sessions at camp are coming to an end, or that they are looking forward to an upcoming vacation as a final farewell to summer.  We’re not quite there yet, but we are beginning to think about making that transition from one way of being into another.  Some of us might be sending a child to college for the first time, or back to college for another year.  For others, it is a matter of gearing up for more a more intense weekly schedule after the calm of summer, or of gearing up for our school-age children’s jaw droppingly busy schedules.

It is a bittersweet time filled with excitement, and a bit of loss.  May we always be able to turn to the guidance of this Torah portion, and to see – Re’eh – that the power to create new beginnings and to choose blessing is in our hands still. 

Shabbat Shalom… and wishes for another good and peaceful summer weekend.  It’s not over yet

Services at 7:00pm.  Hope to see you then!

Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman

Thu, December 7 2023 24 Kislev 5784