I want to thank Rabbi Gerber for inviting me to share some thoughts on the Torah portion as a guest blogger this week. It is a special honor to be invited to guest-blog this week in particular, since it is on this coming Shabbat that Ohev Shalom will be officially welcoming Rabbi Gerber’s new son Max into the community and celebrating this new addition to the Gerber family! Mazal Tov!
In keeping with the idea of celebrating new beginnings, this week’s Torah Portion is all about the privileges and responsibilities of (finally!) entering into the Land of Israel. Also, in keeping with the hopes and anxieties of many parents (new and otherwise), this week’s Torah Portion contains a long litany of potential blessings and curses that await the People of Israel in the Land.
The blessings and curses of Parashat Ki Tavo are delivered in dramatic fashion, with half of the tribes of Israel shouting the blessings from one mountain and the other half of the tribes shouting the curses from another. If the People of Israel observe God’s Covenant, they will be blessed beyond measure. If they reject the responsibilities of the Covenant, they will suffer dire consequences.
It is interesting to note that this is not just another message that Moses delivers to the People as a “solo speech”. By having the tribes recite both the blessings and the curses, Moses forces the People to take ownership over what they are saying. They have to own and acknowledge that they are not powerless victims of random fate or beneficiaries of blind luck. They also have to recognize that they are not the sole masters of their fate. Instead, they are partners with God in an effort to maximize blessing in the Land. They are part of an integrated system of cause and effect, a web of ethical connection and Covenantal responsibility.
While perhaps not all of us subscribe to a literal understanding of God as an all-powerful (perhaps punitive) judge, we are becoming more and more aware of our interconnectedness as we confront a looming, multifaceted, and ongoing environmental crisis. As the scientific evidence piles up, it becomes clearer and clearer that we have a powerful opportunity to claim and shape our role as agents of either blessings or curses. Just as the Children of Israel need to name the blessings and curses in this week’s Torah Portion, maybe we need to name the curses that we risk bringing upon ourselves as well as the blessings that might emerge from a community and culture that are grounded in the awe and wonder of Creation.
It just so happens that this Shabbat coincides with Interfaith Food Waste Weekend, when many religious communities are exploring the impact of food waste on our lives, on our communities, and on the planet. As Rabbi Gerber and I were discussing the Torah Portion this morning, he observed that the issue of food waste really encompasses both blessings and curses. We are blessed by an abundance of food on our planet. If we were to distribute that abundance justly and efficiently, no person would need to go hungry. But we bring curses on ourselves when we waste the blessing of food. And it’s not only the curse of hunger that we create through wasting food; the carbon footprint of food waste rivals that of some entire countries. Our inefficient food systems actively contribute to the degradation of a livable planet.
But...just as blessings can be transformed into curses through carelessness or spiritual disconnection, curses can also be mined for blessings. The precariousness of our ecological situation reveals awe-inspiring truths about our relationship to all living things and provides inspiration to act on a more powerful vision of the future. In bearing witness to natural disasters and the injustice of hunger, we can become more keenly aware of the image of God in all people and discover commonalities that make us better allies to one another.
I hope that, as we enter into the High Holiday season, we find ways to take joy in the recognition of our partnership with God, and in the responsibilities and opportunities that go along with that relationship.