Parashat Re’eh: Blessings and Curses

By: Dr. Jeffrey Buch

Life is endowed with blessings and curses; good and evil all mixed together. It is up to each of us to choose to do good or to do evil. So begins today’s parasha.

This seems like a logical and timely message following on the heels of the High Holidays during which we prayed for forgiveness for our sins of the prior year. Thus, the timing of the season correlates with Hashem’s message to B’nai Yisroel on the eve of entering the Promised Land.  The Promised Land is not only a physical place, but it is a spiritual state of being required for the Israelites to fulfill their destiny to be a holy people, living within a covenant with Hashem. The covenant and its laws provide a framework for the Israelites to do good and to elevate life’s journey to a level beyond simple existence. In this parshah the objective of choosing good over evil is stressed through our obligation to give tzedakah.

But is the choice of good over evil, blessing over curse, a communal or a personal obligation? I would argue that it is both and that each supports the other.

What do I mean when I say this?

When we come together as a community on Shabbat, holidays, simchas or at a house of shiva, there are expectations of us, but there are also unexpected rewards. Whether we pray together, or are simply present to give one another emotional support, there is a special presence we can sense—an elevated state of being that we feel at a visceral level. Together, we uplift one another. The connection that develops at such times sustains both the individual and the community. At such times we sense a connection with each other and with our Creator. These moments of connection are moments of blessing; they give spiritual fuel to us as individuals, leaving no room for the evil that curses our existence.

But these community activities could not occur, nor could they have such power, if each member of the community did not bring his or her own spiritual fuel to those events. It is a wonderful and beautiful recycling and recombination of spiritual energy that we create as partners with Hashem. The individual brings his or her energy to the community. The community activity combines and enhances that spiritual energy exponentially and then gives it back to the individual members. Our lives are best lived when we use the laws of the covenant to provide a beautiful spiritual matrix that can crowd out—though never eliminate completely—the evil in our world. Even curses can have a silver lining. It is up to us to use our spiritual strength to look for the silver lining in our curses and, with the help of our communities, turn those curses into blessings.

As we start our New Year of observance, I wish for all of us and our families a happy, healthy, and sweet new year of blessings that crowd out the curses. 

Shabbat Shalom!