Again, as I look at that list of curses in Ki Tavo, I think to myself "surely, we are doomed as a species. Somewhere, right now, somewhere on earth, someone is committing one of these actions." Sadly, it's as likely as not that those "someones" are Jews. I'd like to think this weren't the case, but sadly, I cannot.
Then I look at that list of blessings in Ki Tavo and I think to myself with awe: "How blessed we are. How lucky that Gd so favors us." And all we have to do is keep our covenant and follow the commandments.
I knew there had to be a catch. Blessings aren't part of some grand entitlement in the covenant we made with Gd. We have to sow some effort in order to reap the rewards of blessing. Those who sow in tears will reap with joy. Of course, effort doesn't imply "sowing in tears" but still, I think the general sentiment applies to this situation.
Sometimes, we are fortunate, Gd is munificent, and we get blessings even when we haven't done our fair share of the work. Well, Gd, as much as I appreciate this beneficence, I'm not sure it's an entirely good idea. (There I go again, giving advice to Gd. Will I ever learn?) In any case, I believe that getting rewards when we really haven't pulled our weight breeds complacency. Why work hard at the commandments when we might get the blessings anyway? At least that's what a cynic would say.
We're getting away with it. Still. Or so it would seem.
Psst. Come here. I'll tell you a secret. It may look like we're getting away with something - but we're not. It's just like the text says. Blessings and curses. Both of them. Nowhere does it say you will always be curse free! It says that if we listen to what Gd tells us, blessing will come upon us, and if we do not listen, we will be cursed. Nowhere does it say that Gd will only bless us when we do the specific things mentioned in Ki Tavo and elsewhere in Torah. If not blessing then curse? I don't think the text is that black and white. Nor is it as easy as "choose one from scroll A and two from scroll B." But isn't that so like us moderns, wanting our religion, our faith, our Torah, as if it were from a Chinese Take-Out menu. I think the idea is that we're supposed to order one of everything on the menu.
Rashi tells us that "Cursed be he who does not uphold and keep this entire Torah" (Deut 27:26) means we must keep the whole Torah. Ramban tell us it is an admonition not to abandon any commandment. And the text goes to great lengths to tell us what will befall us (including "every punishment not written in this book" - Deut 28:61--talk about a wide open clause) if we do not. And the descriptions of what will befall us sure seem, in hindsight, pretty darn accurate! Most of this has befallen us. Great ammunition, it would appear, for the more traditional/Orthodox point of view.
But we're still here. We don't follow all the mitzvot. Some of us blatantly contradict them. And we're still here. We've gotten away with it. Yet, living in the luxury of our modern freedoms, prosperity, etc., how quickly forget. It was not so long ago that they (the Nazis) tried to eradicate us. Again. As so many have tried before. And believe me, there are plenty around today who would eagerly join in the same kind of extermination process. So no, we haven't gotten away with it completely. There is still risk to being a Jew. Our comfortable lifestyle often masks that reality.
Keep all these commandments, says the text. I search in vain for something in the text of Ki Tavo that can help me justify my more liberal "informed choice" lifestyle. It's just not there. It would be easy to just dismiss the text as irrelevant. But to do so means I must give up the chance at the blessings as well as the fear of the curses. No thanks. I'll keep struggling with the text. As long as I do, I will be reminded of the blessings.
To each and every one of you, my wishes for a Shabbat Shalom. I will once again spend mine wrestling with the text of Ki Tavo. May your Shabbat be filled with activities you will enjoy as much as I will this continual challenge.
©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha
5760--Catalog of Calamities
Ki Tavo 5761--Rise & Shine
Ki Tavo 5762--Al Kol Eileh
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