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8.18.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Aug 18, 2017 8:46 pm
by RabbiMark
“See, I put before you today blessing and curse, a blessing that you should obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, and a curse if you should not obey the commandments of the Lord your God and turn from the path that I command you today and follow other gods that you have not known.”

If you look closely at this text, the first three verses of this week’s Torah portion, you may notice what seems to be an inconsistency in the phrasing. The Israelites are informed of both a blessing and a curse, a blessing “that” they should follow the commandments, but a curse “if” they do not. While many commentators and translators have tried to normalize the text of this verse, to make each of the two options read like the other, I am inclined to follow the tradition that there are no superfluous words in the Torah, that each word exists in the text for a specific reason.

I am not alone. The commentator Isaac Abarbanel in the fifteenth century asked why there is a difference in the phrasing of these two apparent options. Why are we blessed “that” we should obey the commandments but cursed “if” we do not? Why does it not read “a blessing if you will obey the commandments…and a curse if you will not…”? To my reading, the wording of this verse makes clear that the curse does not preclude the blessing. We are blessed simply in being given the opportunity to follow God’s commandments; and while we may choose the other path and the curse that goes with it, that blessing still stands. We are blessed at all times, even in the midst of our wrongdoing, our cursedness, with the opportunity to do God’s will. We may always return to the right path. This text, for me, is among the most powerful in all of Torah; it bespeaks t'shuvah.

As Rav Abraham Isaac Kook wrote in Orot haT'Shuvah (The Lights of T'Shuvah), “there is no such thing as a tzaddik (a righteous person) who only does good and who never sins”; even the greatest among us are not immune to being human. Most of us do not lay claim to the title of tzaddik. T'shuvah grants us the freedom, not to sin at will, but to make mistakes, to go down the wrong path for a while and eventually, in recognizing our failing, to return. We need not be defined by our misdeeds, but by our capacity to do better.

I have been blessed in my time as a spiritual counselor here at Beit T’Shuvah to be welcomed into a community that recognizes and values all aspects of our humanity. Beit T’Shuvah has challenged me, alongside the residents and the rest of the staff here, to reflect on my actions and to take note, not only of the ways in which I have missed the mark, but also of those things that I have done well. The self-reflection that is required in this undertaking has taught me to see myself as a more complete person - a person who is flawed, but whose flaws do not disqualify him from walking on that right path.

I am no tzaddik, but I am always striving to be the best version of myself. Even so, I understand that I will, as I have innumerable times up to now, fail to hit the mark. I will make wrong choices and yet I am blessed simply by the opportunity to make the right choice, to get back on the right path, to admit my wrongdoing, to make t’shuvah.

Shabbat Shalom,

Danny Lutz
Rabbinic Intern