Do blessings and curses come from heaven or do we bring them upon ourselves by the way we live our lives?
This week’s Torah reading, Re’eh, from Deuteronomy 11, begins with blessings and curses. Moses is continuing his sermonic messages before he takes leave of his people. The great leader waxes philosophical:
“Behold, I give you this day a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of God that I command you this day. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of God and you stray from the path.”
Interestingly, if you look closely, you will see that there is a variation in the language regarding the blessing and the curse. In regard to the blessing, Moses says “that” you hearken to the commandments. In regard to the curse, he says “if” you do not hearken to the commandments.
I had long known this, but then I saw it written in the name of the 19th-century commentator the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibish Wisser). This difference in language is noteworthy.
The curses are dependent on our conduct. If we fail to abide by God’s way of life, we open ourselves up to misfortune. The blessings, however, are not only a reward from heaven in the future for our good behavior today. No. The blessing is that you will hearken—listen and abide by a Torah way of life. Those who listen to the word of God and live a Godly life with Torah values are blessed immediately. It’s not that we will merit a slice of heaven in the afterlife. We are blessed right now. Living a Godly life is in and of itself a blessing.
Already, in this world, one can discover the difference in the lives of those who lead a Godly lifestyle. There is meaning, fulfillment and a deep sense of inner peace and contentment in the knowledge that they are following the Creator’s guide for good living.
The blessing is that you will listen. Just listening, and living a traditional Jewish lifestyle, is already a blessing that brings discernible good fortune into our lives.
If once upon a time we needed faith to believe this, today it is patently obvious. “Behold I give you this day,”“today” we can “behold”—we can empirically observe the blessings and curses in our everyday lives.
I don’t have a Pew Report to prove it, but the anecdotal evidence is staggering. One can confidently generalize and assert that families that are observant of Jewish tradition do seem to enjoy more wholesome relationships. Shabbat and chagim are celebrated together meaningfully and happily, marriages are more stable and the faith does appear to be transmitted down the generations more successfully.
Faithful people seem to have a better chance of enjoying nachas from their children. Children in these families generally seem to be more agreeable about following in their parents’ footsteps and embracing their values. It’s not considered “nerdy.” Generation gaps are not a given. Children, parents and grandparents can sit together in shul, and the younger generation is happy to embrace the values and lifestyles of their forbears, which they respect.
Of course, there are no guarantees and exceptions abound. Yes, there is a growing trend of young religious people going “off the path,” so to speak. But this is still the exception, not the rule. Though the divorce rate in observant communities is growing, it is a far cry from the frightening statistics in the broader community.
In the wider society, young people are going off on their own missions en masse and, usually, it is very different from their own family culture. Tragically, families not anchored to Jewish tradition are losing their children in far greater numbers, especially when it comes to their choice of marriage partners.
This is not to suggest that traditional families will always enjoy smooth sailing. Life is not that simple, and I am not that simplistic. Of course, the mystery of bad things happening to good people persists. But as I look around, observe and reflect, I think one can objectively conclude that keeping the faith does bring with it its own blessings in the here and now as much as in the hereafter.
Indeed, the blessing is very much that you will keep the commandments.
May we keep the faith and be blessed. Now and forever.