Rabbi Miriam's Blog
In last week’s parsha Re’eh, Moses continues to prepare the Nation of Israel for the responsibilities that lie ahead in the land that was promised to our fathers. “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse."
”In what has come to be called “Deuteronomical Thinking,” he presents the idea that blessings and curses result from our adherence or divergence from Mizvot. Some criticize “Deuteronomical Thinking” as childish Santa Claus-like thinking: if I am good I get rewarded by God, if bad, I get punished by God. Torah and Moses teach something very different. They present the idea that blessings and curses are the consequence of individual and community behaviors – that we, individually and collectively have the power to bless and to curse.
Re’eh is a call to “see” and pay attention to our actions and to take responsibility for their consequences. Moses is particularly concerned about idolatry. I doubt any of the readers of this newsletter are bowing down to, or making sacrifices to “carved images”. However, this does not mean that we are not worshiping idols, and thereby, bringing curses upon ourselves and our
Certainly, it’s easy to see the consequences of society’s lusts for the false gods of “gold and silver.” More difficult is for us to “Re’eh” the idols in our lives. Idols can be defined as “anything which is put before God (Mizvot, Hesed, or goodness), ”We bow down to the idols of the ego: money, property, prestige, self-image, body image, comfort and convenience.
Every time we overcome these idols and practice Mizvot, Hesed, or goodness with our families, or in our communities, we bring blessings upon them. Every time we succumb to these idols, we bring curses upon ourselves, our families, and our communities. As we approach the High Holidays, I encourage you to perform a “Heshbon ha’nefesh” , an accounting of the soul.
Review the prior year, and “see” for yourself the actions you took which resulted in blessings and those you took or failed to take that resulted in curses. Find for yourself the idols to which your eyes are drawn – those that you prioritize above God, Mizvot, Hesed, or goodness.
As a daily reminder, our tradition has us recite a prayer when we wash our faces upon awakening: “Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids. May it be Your will, God, my God and God of my fathers, that You accustom me to Your Torah and Your commandments and do not accustom me to sins or transgressions. Cause the positive inclination to rule over me and not the evil inclination. Strengthen me in Your commandments and grant my portion in Your Torah. Allow me to find favor, lovingkindness, and mercy in Your eyes and the eyes of all who see me and bestow upon me benevolent kindnesses. Blessed are You, God, who bestows benevolent kindnesses.”
Torah teaches us that individuals and communities have the power to bless. However, we must “Re’eh” with our eyes and our souls that which will be a blessing and that which will be a curse. This prayer helps us keep our eyes open. With the power of reflection and prayer, we can overcome the idols in our lives. Our holy calendar and rituals help us to transform the ordinary and overcome the idols and bring blessings into our lives, our families and our communities. It all begins with “Re’eh”, to open our eyes and “see” that we, individually and collectively, have the power to bless and to curse.
“Blessed are You, God, who opens my eyes and allows me to be a part of your benevolent kindnesses.”
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.