Teasing apart the sweet from the bitter
by Jhos Singer
Shabbat Shalom Chaverim—
This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) begins with one of the great truths of life:
“Look, today I am setting in front of you blessing and curse…..” Deut. 11:26
What else do we need to know? Everyday, it is ours to open our hearts, our minds, our eyes, our hands to the paradoxes and contradictions that define our time in the body. Everyday we choose how to interpret and internalize our experiences and encounters. Relationship falling apart? See it as a sign of unworthiness or take it as evidence of growth and rebirth? Get fired from a job? File it in “Failure” or “Move forward”? Of course, teasing apart the sweet from the bitter, the brokenness from the openness, death from birth, is the essence of spiritual practice. And for some period we have to live in the glorious discomfort of ambiguity.
I’m at Queer Talmud Camp, sitting in a delightful maelstrom of that very practice as I write this–baking in the strange, Wisconsonian summer’s damp, relentless heat—taking a break from being immersed in our sacred, saucy, and surprising texts. The project of studying scripture is to search for the wisdom, insight, and blessing that glimmers in and between the words, thoughts, and musings of our ancients. Their ideas are simultaneously simple and complex. They show us how to navigate, interpret, and sometimes even rewrite our collective and individual stories. And, most importantly, the lasting record of their diligent work is a guide book for how to make room for blessings while minimizing curses.
This is hard work. Unfortunately, shifting our focus to what is sustaining, healing, and affirming is not as obvious or easy as it seems it should be. Curses are sticky—and believing in the doom they portend is often weirdly satisfying because unfortunately, damnation is a predictable landscape. It is heartbreakingly easy to believe that all hell breaking loose is just around the corner; whereas grace and favor, abundance, and delight seem so fragile, flimsy, and fickle.
If we take a close reading of this week’s text we will notice that our parsha begins:
Perhaps the text is suggesting that every day we should take some time to be fully present, to reflect and observe the moment we are in; that what we understand to be true must be re-evaluated every day. Our Torah may be calling us to be present enough to see that each new day brings ever unfolding choices—to break old patterns, find the courage to manifest truth, and most importantly, to bring our unique blend of trauma and talent out into the light of day to discern, decide, and descry between blessing and curse.
May we take some time this Shabbes to think about our blessings and our curses. What is working in our lives? And what isn’t? Are there ways to cultivate our belief in each other, forge our right path, and trust in the importance of our purpose? We have been showered with opportunities to heal. Let us find the courage to start the slow steady journey to “yes”.