“See. I set before you blessing and curse” (Deut. 11.26) With this famous line this week’s portion begins. Once again, the portion sets out to focus on the future of the people. If you follow God’s commandments you will achieve blessing. If not, curse. The historical aspect of this portion is fascinating. The portion warns against worship of other gods, of following false prophets. It calls for the destruction of those people and places wherin the worship of other gods is practiced. There is little “mercy” here. The portion, according to classical biblical scholarship, is reflective of the reformation of King Josiah (late 7th century BCE) who sought to consolidate power and centralize workshop in Jerusalem by destroying the places that held Baal worhsip and other foreign gods. The basis for this purge was the discovery of a book that seemd to lay out the foundation for Josiah’s acts. That book, according to many, was Deuteronomy. Indeed, if you go to the book of 2 Kings chapter 23, you can read about this. I often mention when I teach Torah study, that you can see Torah as a book of political science, and this portion is proof.
But back to that opening line. The choice is distinct for the Israelites. Blessing vs. curse! Would that things were so simple in our life. Choice is a fundamental concept of Judaism. We will meet this issue in a few weeks and again on Yom Kippur when we read from the famous portion “Nitzvaim” (Deut. 29/30) that also speaks to the value of choice. So many of us have had, in our lives, so many situations where we have had to make choices and often, those choices presented us with less than clear options. Sometimes, often in issues regarding end of life or placing a loved one in a facility, the choices are not between good and bad, but between various shades of discomfort. How do we, or can we see that choices we make are called upon to be made from a perspective of holiness? How do we educate for holiness, especially in this day and age of relativism?
For us, in our own aging, we often find that the choices we are called upon to make have significant consequences. Those choices, while ours, so often impact so many more and often those who are yet to be born. In the end, we struggle to make choices that are based in holiness, made from a foundation of faith in our own common sense and life experience. Doing that, we pray, will achieve blessing for us and our families.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.