Re’eh: Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17
“Blessings & Curses: In the “I” of the Beholder”
This week’s Torah portion is close to my heart. It was the Torah portion of the week of my wedding, some years ago, and is called Re’eh, which means “See!” It begins:
See! I place before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you hearken to the path of mitzvot of the Eternal your God, that I enjoin upon you today; and the curse if you do not hearken to the path of mitzvot of the Eternal your God, and turn aside from the way that I enjoin upon you today… [Deut. 11:26-28]
“I place before you today a blessing and a curse,” an interesting injunction to launch a marriage! But as much as the ego is fine with blessings, why does God have to also place curses in front of us?
Note that both blessings and curses are linked here to following (or not) the path of mitzvot. Typically in the Jewish world, we tend to think of mitzvot as “doing good deeds.” And that’s fine, but in relating only to the “doing,” this limited understanding misses an entire dimension of what mitzvah truly is about. To access the richer understanding we look to the Aramaic root of “mitzvah” which means “connecting.” The path of mitzvot, therefore, is a spiritual practice or discipline which aims at connecting or reconnecting us to God, to the Source of Being that we are. Yet why does embracing a spiritual practice bring blessings and not following one unleash curses? If we consider this to be not so much about outer consequences, but rather about inner awareness, then deeper layers of meaning can be extracted from this injunction.
Often, when we neglect our spiritual practice, we find ourselves caught in the world of the mind, stuck in the chaotic life of the ego. The nature of the ego is to be dissatisfied, to perceive and often dwell upon what is lacking, what is not right, on how things should be and are not. The ego worries, complains about its needs not being fulfilled, its expectations not being met. It looks out at the world and sees violence, devastation, ecological disaster. It lives in anger and resentment about yesterday and in fear of tomorrow, continually trying to manipulate and control today to make it different than it is. And so it is not so much that a life devoid of spirituality brings curses upon itself; rather, it may be that such a life is one where one is only able to see curses. As the first word of our portion may be hinting at, this is about what we are able to “see,” to be present to or aware of. Collapsed in the ego, one sees only lack and fear, i.e. curses.
When we make spirituality an essential part of our existence, however, what we are able to see is radically different. Because our spiritual path serves to reconnect us to Source, it expands our awareness beyond the tunnel vision of the ego. In removing our blinders and opening our eyes it also opens our heart. As we become spiritually aware, we are able to see the essential goodness of the world, the miracle of life, the unfathomable gift of our own birth, and the preciousness of relationship. We are able to hold the pain and suffering, the struggling and the fear with acceptance, understanding and compassion. The existence of love brings up feelings of gratitude, the wonder of aliveness, feelings of pure joy. In such awareness the other is no longer seen as a means to satisfy one’s needs; one is able to leave the past in the past, welcome the future with an open heart, and be fully present to one’s experience in every moment, just as it is. When awareness transcends the ego, one can’t help but see abundance and love.
The perfect wedding gift of a portion after all!