Your Suffering May Turn Tragedy into Blessing

Saturday, August 24, 2013

50th Torah Portion, the 7th portion of Deuteronomy – Ki Tavo

26:1-29:8 (121 verses)

Synopsis:

            The Israelites are instructed to express their gratitude to God for  their bountiful harvests and freedom from slavery by tithing 10 percent of their crops for the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow.  They are told to display God’s commandments on large stones for all to see.  The Levites proclaim an awesome array of curses that dwarf the catalogue of blessings preceding them.  Moses reminds the Israelites of the miracles they witnessed in the Wilderness and commands them to observe the terms of the Covenant so that they may succeed in all that they undertake. 

            The Deuteronomic code ends with this portion.  The last four parashiot is Moses’ final speech of farewell.

Commentary:

            Blessings and curses form a special framework for our theology and are found on three other occasions in our Torah (Exodus 23:20 ff., Leviticus 26, and Deuteronomy 11:26 ff.).  For centuries many have ventured to comment on this most troubling aspect of our faith.  We are faced with a cosmic disconnect as to whether God takes an active role in human history bestowing blessings and curses or that God takes no such role in our lives.  If God plays no role in punishing evil and rewarding the good, then these promises, blessings and curses are empty and meaningless.

            Instead of resolving this confusion for you, I would like to offer a religious activist approach to suffering.  The Talmud in its very first Tractate, Berachot instructs, if a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct. (The question is asked, “Are your sufferings welcome to you?”)  We can expand this verse to mean, when we are witness to the sufferings of others, one’s own conduct should be examined.  My approach to this is that we examine our own conduct in either case, not in order to assign blame or search for sin; rather to pursue how we take this tragedy as a catalyst to give greater meaning to our covenantal relationship with God and our commitment to healing our world. 

            Our covenantal spirit may become crushed, and we paralyzed when tragedy befalls us.  On the other hand the “curse” of the tragedy ought to broaden and deepen our commitment even more, energizing us toward moral renewal and healing.  The weight of the world is not on the back of God.  The weight of the world is on our shoulders to bear.

            We can at any time have the discussion together about the mystery of suffering of the innocent.  But the real tragedy and curse to our soul is if we allow that mystery from preventing us to be God’s vehicle for blessing.

Questions:

  1. Who are those in your world who have turned tragedy into blessing?
  2. Next time you are suffering, use the instruction from the Talmud and answer, “Are your sufferings welcome to you” for self-examination?

Focus:  Each morning arise to perform one additional conscious blessing during the day

           

l’shana tova tikateivu,

Rabbi Thomas Louchheim