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Blessings and Curses (Re’eh 08/15/20)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Blessings and Curses
It seems to me that we’re coming to terms with the “new normal.” When schools, synagogues, and businesses first closed, we thought we were just doing deep cleaning; we’ll be reopening shortly. Now we know nothing is dramatically changing until we have a nationwide, if not universal, Coronavirus vaccine. How do we stay upbeat and positive under such circumstances?
Luckily, this week’s parsha sheds some light on the matter.
Parshat R’ay starts with the words: “R’ay, See, I have set before you today a blessing and a curse.”
Are the blessing and the curse two separate entities? Is God’s intention, “Behold I’m giving you opportunities for blessings or curses,” or does it perhaps mean, “I’m going to give you something today you can interpret as either a blessing or a curse”?
Let’s consider two of the more notable things that happened in the past week.
Senator Kamala Harris was chosen to be Joe Biden’s running mate.
It’s big news. She’s only the third woman in American history chosen for such a position. She’s the first black woman to assume this role, and she’s the first Indian American woman selected as well. There are many, just out of sheer empathy, who will cheer her nomination.
On the other hand, there are some that are not pleased and have found numerous, possibly even legitimate, complaints against her.
Is her selection a blessing or a curse?
The other event is the diplomatic agreement forged this week between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. This pact will establish “full normalization of relations” but under the conditions that Israel will forgo (for now) “declaring sovereignty” over the occupied West Bank territory.
It’s a great cause for celebration, for the United Arab Emirates is just the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel after Egypt and Jordan. Additionally, Netanyahu claims it as an amazing accomplishment because “we have broken the paradigm of ‘land for peace’ and have brought ‘peace for peace.’” Israel did not have to give up anything for this peace deal.
On the other hand, the Israeli Settlers hate the agreement, for it disallows the annexation of the West Bank areas, something they fervently and religiously believe in. The Palestinians and Hamas hate it, for they see that Israel now has no incentive to broker a deal with them in order to achieve a broader range of peace in the Middle East.
Is the pact a blessing or not? It depends upon how you interpret it.
“R’ay, See, I’m placing before you a blessing and a curse.” To me, it seems that many things could be interpreted either way. Of course, occurrences such as tree landing on your house may be hard to view as a blessing, but many things just depend on perspective. It is possible to see the loss of electricity, the necessity of online learning and prayers, working from home, and socially distanced gatherings as a blessing.
In our times, when life has become exponentially more difficult, I believe the Torah is telling us to choose what we want and need to see. “R’ay, See, I’m placing before you what can be a blessing or a curse,” by accepting the blessing, we thereby bless our own lives with gratitude and serenity.
Have a blessed week,
R’ Neil

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