“And God said, I have set before you today a choice: a blessing or a curse.” Now who in their right mind would choose a curse over a blessing? Throughout our Torah there are many lists of blessings and curses. God puts this choice to us over and over again. A blessing or a curse. Life or death. “Therefore choose life.” So, who would choose otherwise?
The easy way is not always the best way or even the right way. The curse is easy, and the blessing is hard. To sit back and do nothing is the way of the curse. However, constant hard work is the way of the blessing. We are a religion of doing, of action. There is no such thing as an innocent bystander in Judaism; standing by is a crime. We are also a religion of moderation. Everything we do should be in moderation, not just food and drink, but even anger as well. Yes, sometimes we must get angry. If we see injustice, we are supposed to get angry. For sometimes anger can lead to action and to justice. Whereas uncontrolled anger is forbidden, controlled anger is commanded and may also lead us in the direction of a blessed life.
Blessings and curses. Life and death. A life without blessings is a curse. Life is not about how long we live, but rather how much we make of the life we have. We are commanded this week in Parashat Re’eh to be good; but ultimately, commanded or not, it is our choice. Unlike the angels, God has given us free will. We will always have a choice, and it is not as simple or easy as it would seem.
The Torah is a blueprint for a good life, but one can be good without it. One does not need religion to be good. Many atheists are good people, just as many religious people are not. The Torah’s path to blessing this week is through mitzvot, through God’s commandments, and although it discusses kashrut, our dietary laws, we cannot forget that what comes out of our mouths is just as important as what goes into them.
War is easy, peace is hard. Curses are easy, blessings are hard. Just as a good marriage requires hard work, a good life requires hard work. Many around us may choose the easy way out, but this week we are commanded to work hard. And so we are taught that hard work eventually pays off, with blessing.
Rabbi Alex Greenbaum is from Beth El Congregation of the South Hills.