Setting before you blessing and curse
by Jhos Singer
Shabbat Shalom Chaverim—
Oh, sweet Shabbes!
It can feel so hard to accept the gift of a full day of peace and rest when there is so much unchecked anger, loss, pain and frustration in the air. The display of racist, anti-Semitic, homo-and-everything-else-phobic hatred that reared its head last week in Charlottesville feels like yet another very bad turning point.
So how do we make Shabbes when our hearts are so heavy? Well, remember that this gift was originally given to bunch of traumatized folks who, for myriad generations, had lived as slaves under tyranny and oppression. So, friends, if they could do it, we gotta at least try.
The radical wisdom of Shabbat is grounded in the truth that a little distance can help us shift our thinking and slow down our impulses. By spending a day in contemplation and study, or pleasure and playfulness, we actually deepen our ability to skillfully navigate the rapids of the rest of the week. And Lord knows we’ve got rapids ahead my friends—and we are gonna need impeccable skills to get through this run with any grace. Fortunately, we’ve got the Torah to serve as our mystical map to the spiritual landscape, and it’s got some good stuff for us to ponder at this juncture.
The week’s portion, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:15) begins:
“See! I am setting before you blessing and curse.”
There it is. We aren’t born into a completely safe world, neither are we born into a totally treacherous state. Rather, in our lives we will be faced with abundance and paucity, ease and struggle, blessings and curses, and everyday we have to dial up our own sensitivity, awareness and discernment to figure out which path is the right one to take at any given moment. The reading goes on to say that:
“When you all come to the land that the Unfolding Great Mystery brings you to, you will apprehend there that you should put blessing towards the
mountain-of-being-cut-off (har gezirim) and curse towards the mountain-of-bloatedness (har eival).”
The Torah recognizes that blessing—abundance, fullness, wealth, privilege, good fortune, luck, favor—needs to be directed towards the alienated, the broken, the isolated and fractured places in our world; and curse—diminution, lessening, haste, weakening, contempt—is to be directed to areas of that are overblown, bulky, swollen, gross.
Shabbat gives us time to study our own lives and circumstances. Where do we need blessings and where do we give them? Where do we encounter curses and how do we respond to them? To what broken places do we need to bring healing? And what excesses can we resist? Where can we access and share love and abundance, and where can we pop a hole in the overstuffed? Where do we choose blessing, and where do we choose curse?
May we accept the gift of this Shabbat and keep it sacred; let us find new ways of being in balance, new tools for meeting the blessings and curses that come our way, and restoring our faith that every choice we make matters.