It is only in very rare cases that we, as human beings, do not have choices. Admittedly, at times our choices are between bad and worse, however, at other times it is between good and excellent. Many times when we are faced with a complex situation we find it difficult to break that situation down to its basic elements and refrain from making a decision. We hope that the gushing river will somehow help us get to a safe place. It is possible that something like that will happen, even if not likely, and to some extent there is even a choice being made there, but there is also a major concession. In this week’s portion of the Torah this issue is simply put before the People of Israel, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse”. There is good and there is bad and seemingly everything is easy and simple. Not really.
There is one more demand though, “when the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. They are across the Jordan, west of the way toward the sunset, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, opposite Gilgal, beside the oaks of Moreh”. This is seemingly simple, there are two mountains, one representing the blessing and the other, nearby, representing the curse. I can just try to imagine how we, a generation that relies on Waze navigation, or even those of us who still use the good old paper maps, trying to navigate to those two mountains. We do not really get any feature of one mountain that distinguishes it from the other, where they are relative to other mountains, no trig points provided to allow us to accurately aim and reach our target. How would we know that we have arrived at one mountain or the other?! did we get to the blessing or are we doomed by the curse?!
So we agree, it is not as easy as we thought. The navigation instructions received could have been better. But we are not left without anything. Navigating to the blessing requires, “listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today”. Navigating towards the curse is actually much easier, it is something we do regularly and err over and over again. “and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.” We are stuck and we have to learn how to properly navigate and reach the correct mountain understanding that there is a large probability that we will make a navigational error and go astray, lose track of the main road and follow a track towards the wrong mountain. The question is what should we do? How do we navigate these narrow straits?
Moses gives us the answer much later in his long speech. We read about it in chapter 30 of the book of Deuteronomy the opens both our hearts and eyes when he finally gives the best navigational instructions which we so often forget. “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” The Mount of Blessings is very near, actually so near that as a result we ar unable to navigate towards it.
We are not naïve. We know that the world is full of evil and bigotry – we know that for very long. There is nothing new about that. Our problem is not the existence of that in our world but rather the helplessness so often exhibited when dealing with evilness and bigotry with so many excuses, simply navigating to the wrong target which then increases the cost, extinguishes lives, and delays the time where a solution is reached. So many times we ourselves are so bound by our own ideas that we navigate ourselves to the top of Mount of Curse. We continue to support a leader simply because we did so in the past and are unable to see or realize the mistakes and the errors. But it is exactly there where we must stop, certainly those of us who lead others, check to where we are actually navigating to and what are the results of that. Maybe, just maybe, we are on the wrong track that is taking us up the Mount of Curse, Ebal, instead of reaching the top of the Mount of Blessings, Gerizim?
It was heartbreaking to see this past week leaders lose this simple compass that they could have used. When you them march holding torches and listen to a certain type of cries, and you experience the violence, you know in your mouth and in your heart exactly what it is. Our hearts yearn to our fellow brothers and sisters of Charlottesville, Virginia in the USA. These include also Congregation Beth Israel, a sister Reform congregation. It was shocking to listen and rad about the experiences of the congregants during the period of violence and threats and also recognizing those who knew what is right, who have it in their hearts, gentiles and Jews alike, and came forth and stood there with them making a clear stand on where the Mount of Blessing really stands. Today I wish us all to be climbing the Mount of Blessing and most of all I wish that to those leaders of the free world who have not done that until now. They must recognize their navigational errors, understand that they have gone astray, that they are off the path, and will learn to distinguish between good and bad, between the blessing and the curse.
Reuven Marko, 27 Av 5777, 18 August 2017