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.