Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – R’eih

Sören Kierkegaard said, “It is very dangerous to go into eternity with possibilities which one has oneself prevented from becoming realities. A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it.” We are our own worst enemies, as we hold ourselves back. It is only with vision that we can thrive, and yet there are many who dream … but then ignore their own dreams (and everyone else’s), passing them off as pure folly. We know from our tradition, “Eem teertzoo, aen zoh agadah – If you really want something, it is not simply a dream.” Without the ability to see past the obstacles that stand in the way of fulfilling our dreams, we have nothing.

“Re’eh, Anokhi notaen lifnaekhem hayom brakha v’klalah – Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.” Our Torah portion begins with words of vision. God has set before the people a vision of the blessings and the curses available to them. The text instructs us to associate choosing the “blessing” with a life of progress and joy. With the “curse,” we experience a form of death that keeps us depressed and afraid of every next moment we exist. We have to choose which makes the best sense. In every case, we are instructed to choose life. This dichotomy sounds really simple, but we know reality is never simple. There are few, if any, who would argue that they intentionally want the curse. We all want the blessings; the fruits of prosperity and joy. So many want to do what is right but end up hurt anyway.

The first command of this portion is to “SEE!” The text seems to take for granted that we have the capacity not only to see but then to distinguish in what we see– the blessings from the curses. We all witness the same news and events in the daily life of the world, and yet we find ourselves at odds over how we interpret their impact on life. One person saw spoiled milk while another saw sour cream. Some saw a threat to Benjamin Franklin’s life when the lightning bolt hit his kite. Ben saw the ability to focus and harness electricity. More recently, for Supremacist factions of “White America,” Martin Luther King, Jr. was an existential threat to their preferred way of life. For an oppressed minority population, he opened the gateway to equality.

Over the course of the last 15 years, every major denomination in this country ran surveys and developed a “Pew Report” from the responses. Many have wept and grieved over the death of religion in America. Many others find hope because people responded and gave us valuable information as to what tradition is missing for the next generations. Spirituality has lost no ground in this country. Many people argue that Americans are more in search of meaningful spiritual engagement than ever before. We have to understand that they are just not finding it in traditional houses of worship which have not themselves evolved. The prophet Jeremiah spoke words from God intended to change hearts and minds. The people of his day jailed him for being insane. Even in losing people we love, we get to celebrate that they touch our lives.

The difference between the blessing or the curse is not God made; we make it. When we choose to see the negative in any situation and in each other, we cannot expect to feel blessed. When we lack the ability to celebrate each other’s vision, especially when their eye sees things that we cannot, we bring the curse upon each other. We have the ability to see past ourselves, to see our way into fulfilling the dreams that we know could change our world. What keeps us from this blessing, and locked in the curse, is that we lack faith to believe that we have this power and this gift. All that happens to us is neither a blessing nor a curse, until we decide what to do with it.

Whatever the hardship we can find blessings, and in even the most joyous of circumstance, if we really want, we can find agonizing pain. “Oo-v’khartah b’khayeem – therefore choose life.”

Shabbat Shalom.