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Blessings & Curses

Cursed be our strategic uses of ignorance,
cursed be our insistence on naivete.
Cursed be our wiggling about, our attempts
at getting out. Here is the flat-out plague of it:
there’s no shortage of fine print, nor chance
for last minute appeal. Centuries have burst forth
from our loins, and still the deal remains a deal.

This week’s Torah reading, Ki Tavo (“when you enter”) is a plethora and paradox of blessings and curses — or to be more arithmetically correct, curses and blessings; for the former far outweigh the latter in number, scope, and awesomeness.

Blessing: ceremony for the first harvest in the new land.

Blessing: the stones containing the complete Instructions, plastered and set up for viewing.

Blessing: in the city & in the country, the fruit of your womb, produce of the field, offspring of your flocks, your basket & kneading bowl, your comings & goings—

If you (read: we) do what you’re told. Keep up your half of the bargain. Take on the almost impossible task of being a holy people. Treat the stranger as your own, accept no bribe, subvert no rights, refuse to sleep with your sister (even if she’s beautiful).

It was a deal thrust upon us and a deal we freely chose (and subverted and chose again, ad infinitum).

Curse: in the city & in the country, the fruit of your womb, produce of the field, offspring of your flocks, your basket & kneading bowl, your comings & goings.

Curse: consumption, fever, and inflammation; scorching heat and drought; blight and mildew; madness, blindness, and dismay.

Curse: Forget My laws and you will not live in the house you built. You will not harvest the vineyard you plant.

Curse: Because you did not serve God in joy and gladness, you will serve — in hunger and thirst, naked and lacking everything — the enemies whom God will let loose against you.

Curse: In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening you will say, “If only it were morning!” — because of what your heart will dread and your eyes will see.

God will send you back to Egypt. You will eat your young. You will tremble like a fallen leaf. Tradition counts 98 curses in Ki Tavo (which are read each year sotto voce in most congregations) (as if somehow we wouldn’t notice).

This is the face of God the punisher, the threat, the overbearing and violent parent laying out the rules in a clear and loud a voice, just in case we didn’t get it the first dozen times. This is Biblical theology at its most challenging and disturbing. It is superstitious and patently untrue: plague affects those too young to sin, and good fortune shines on creeps. Dress it up in metaphor or modern commentary (however beautiful) and it is still disturbing as hell.

Your corpses will be food
for all the birds of the sky–
and no one will chase them away.
Sweet fruit you will be,
sweet fruit in a language
you do not understand.
This is what it means
to be chosen.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    08/25/2010 12:33 pm

    If we take Yaweh out of the picture altogether (at least overtly), it’s the same: we are destroying our planet and know the consequences but just keep on doing it. Our children and grandchildren will pay much more of a price than us and they are innocent. Or are they? Is humankind hellbent on its own destruction? or so arrogant that it refuses to believe what is staring it in the face? It seems nothing has changed.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      08/25/2010 2:34 pm

      Agreed that if we take God (by whatever name) out of the equation, we are doing a terrible job of keeping up our end of good behavior. We are arrogant and ignorant and willfully blind. That being said, if I put God back into the picture, it’s a hell of a text and theology to struggle with. Which is why I go there…

  2. Herb permalink
    09/02/2010 5:24 pm

    Hi Sue: Here you (and I go again). It seems one can often choose whether to act so as earn a blessing or to infract and get a curse–a daily opportunity to choose life (in all its joyous manifestations) or death (in all its negative permutations). But, of course, easier said than done, even for the best of us. Love, Herb

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