“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; 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 find three important actions when dealing with the blessing and the curse, seeing, listening, and walking (the walking part got somewhat lost in the translation of the bible where ללכת is translated into ‘following’). These three actions are actually connected and one cannot do without the other. So as to comprehend the blessing and the curse we must see, we cannot simply shut our eyes to reality, not look at what is happening before us, not internalizing what is happening out there. If we want to understand the blessing and the curse we must open our eyes wide, especially when it is difficult, and more so at times were we would prefer to keep them shut, because what we may see is difficult for us or, may be just more convenient for us to simply ignore.
Listening to the commandments is also important because the listening is not just a technicality of passive hearing. It must be tied to our seeing. Sometime relying on just one of our senses may be highly misleading, directing us in the wrong way. When we are capable of both seeing and listening we stand a chance to understand what it is that we are facing, and then also determine what is a blessing and what is actually a curse. We will hear only a muffled sound when we use ear plugs which while saving our ears (and certainly advised when in a shooting range) still seals us from the environment and from reality. This is also the case when we rely on our decision making based on the ears and mouths of others but do not bother to see and listen ourselves. This will find us not only being wrong but also becoming misleading.
There is also the walking part that is an integral part of the process. The Israelites are warned not to go astray and follow other gods. One certainly may think that this is an easy one. It just requires standing still, not moving and then there is no chance of such a dreadful thing to happen. However this is not what we are told. We are required to move, to walk, so that we can navigate towards the blessing and away from the curse. When we stand still we deprive ourselves from the fundamental possibility to see all that must be seen, to hear all that can be listened to. Maybe we will not move off the way, but the way may move away from us.
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing” – the president of the URJ Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote about what he saw in the north America summer camps of the Movement. He wrote, “Earlier this summer, I met your future synagogue president. I met your future congregational rabbi. I met your future Jewish educator, cantor, and youth professional. They were all there in the kahal (congregation) at URJ Kutz Camp…” I saw the blessing at our own IMPJ summer camp together with my fellow lay and professional leaders. Our summer camp is certainly smaller than Kutz, but there too we can see before our very own eyes the young generation of future leaders of the Israel Reform Movement. Rabi Jacobs added that he found himself “surrounded by art, music, and joy.” He spoke of the educators who “teach our teens how to share their voices in your congregations – all while teaching Jewish prayer and values.” We saw that here too, where among many others, watching the sparkling eyes of kids with special needs immersing themselves in the crowd, equal participants in seeing, listening, and walking. Our camps share values, walking – even when far away – is common, listening – even when a different language is used – is common, and seeing – it is crystal clear.
Blessing and curse are always around us. It makes sense to devote to mountains to bare the tasks in the Promised Land, “the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.” From the top of both we can see essentially the same things, those which can fill ouor lives with blessings or curses. We must aim at the right mountain, a mountain that uniquely combines seeing, listening and walking, so that we can enjoy the blessing to its fullest. It is the duty of leadership to always strive to reach the top of one mountain and then the next one, a better one, that allows seeing further, hearing better, and walking farther toward our future. And our future lies with those youngsters who we see in our synagogues, our youth movements, in the Mekhina, the shin-shin programs, and our summer camps. We have the responsibility to lay foundations that will allow them to walk their special way.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.
Reuven Marko, 10 August 2018, 30 Av, 5778