When the prophet Isiah exclaims, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, / And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” it is clear that something not that good happened before that. Though he does not refrain from reminding us what it is all about, “For in My wrath I struck you, / And in My favor I have had compassion on you.” There is an interesting contrast between the anger that has to do with all the bad deeds made by the Israelites, versus the compassion that comes at will, not as a result of doing what is right. It is simply for compassion. The price of bad behavior is dear, it has its retaliation and there is no real recourse to it that can change the route to mayhem. It is just a matter of will, a situation that causes this to change and then, “Whereas you have been forsaken and hated / With no one passing through, / I will make you an everlasting pride, / A joy from generation to generation.”
We read from the portion of the Torah Ki Tavo that also deals with blessings and curses. Fourteen short sentences are devoted to the blessings. For example, “The Lord will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. The Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath”, certainly relevant as we prepare for the festive dinner of Rosh HaShana. On the other hand, no less than fifty-five sentences are devoted to curses! Among others, “ He shall lend to you, but you will not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you will be the tail… then the Lord will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses.” Now, as we are at a period of seven consecutive Saturdays of comfort coming after the ninth day of the month of Av, we should not speak to much about these curses.
Nevertheless, the fact that we do not want to talk much about curses does not mean that we can simply dismiss discussing them. The curses are provided as a total opposite of the blessings and many more. They are intended to show us what happens when we go estray, leaving the right paths, not willing to think of what is relevant to our days as they were in those days. These are certainly not simple tasks whatsoever. They require study and careful consideration. They beg common sense but also a belief in our ability to change that which needs change and maintain that which ought to be kept. There is nothing easier taking the highway, the route that so many took before us, the path that does not require us to spend an effort about, just simply and mindlessly walk. Seemingly this is the main road, the right way. However, it may also be the route that takes us in the direction of oblivion. The inability to adjust our ways to what is proper and relevant to our times and to the zeitgeist may lead to cessation. It results in studying our ancient texts as repetitive automata rather than as people of study.
The prophet Isiah notes in the Haftarah for this week, “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, / And instead of iron I will bring silver, / And instead of wood, bronze, / And instead of stones, iron. / And I will make peace your administrators / And righteousness your overseers.” He promises that everything will become better, gold instead of copper, silver in lieu of Iron, instead of stones iron will be brought. But all these worldly goods, as important as they may be, do not compare to peace and righteousness. Those are the building block, the values we must stick to. The prophet says that so well, “Violence will not be heard again in your land, / Nor devastation or destruction within your borders; / But you will call your walls salvation, and your gates praise.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 4 September 2020, 16 Elul, 5780