Weeks before his death, his closing speeches which form the book of Devarim, Moshe Rabbeinu has a continuous theme, found again in the opening words of this week’s parashah, Re’eh: “See, this day I set before you 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.” Unfortunately, life experience does not support fully Moshe’s teaching. Our own Tanach, Job, questions whether there is causality between performance of mitzvoth and being rewarded with blessing. Too many of us, for thousands of years, have observed the opposite. The psalmist phrases it by saying that God’s ways and thoughts are not ours. The solution presented in Job is that “The Lord works in mysterious ways”, and therefore, we do not fully understand how blessings or curses manifest. Rabbinic sages extend this by hypothesizing that all the apparent injustices of this world are worked out in the next – the eternal life. Despite our difficulty with believing there is absolute correlation between performance of mitzvoth and blessing bestowed from beyond, we may understand Moshe’s words to be speaking about the matter of blessing and curse from a different perspective.
Moshe, while wanting to create motivation for people to live a God-centered, Torah based, mitzvot observant life, also desires to teach a meta-lesson about the power we have each moment in our life. In other words, curses are not cast and blessings are not bestowed from beyond; rather, blessing and curse emanate from within through the choices we make and how they imprint in our consciousness. Indeed, it is the power of our mind that separates us from the other animals and draws us closer to God-consciousness. Performance of mitzvot as learned through Torah connects us to God; living a righteous life puts us in the groove.
The Torah of Moshe provides a fundamental way for one to feel blessing in life, a way further detailed by rabbis who followed him. One does not have to follow the Torah exactly as presented to us through the rabbinic tradition. With the panoply of rabbinic voices over thousands of years and dozens of cultural contexts, there is a vast range of understanding Torah. This freedom to engage with the One and expand how it can be expressed is in itself a blessing. We may learn general principles of Torah, such as how there is correlation between life, good and blessing, and apply them to how we learn Torah and live mitzvot.
Ultimately, Moshe implores us to live a mindful life, one of heightened perception. Each moment of life presents us with choices and we have responsibility for the ones we make. Always reading these words of Moshe as we move from Tisha B’Av toward Rosh Hashanah, we recognize humans’ power of choice would be a curse if not for our commensurate power to do Teshuvah (repentance). We recognize the consequences of our actions, knowing we can always learn from our errors and, with proper repentance, get back on track. It is as we stray that we experience the curse – the sting in heart, mind and soul. As we return to centre, balance and focus we feel the blessing in life. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse …”