Blessings and Curses


I forced myself to watch. 

Anderson Cooper, a CNN news host, informed viewers that the video clip of the car attack was disturbing and those with children in the room should have them turn away, but my children weren’t in the room. I had no excuse. So I watched the car slam into the people and heard the people screaming, “Oh my God, Oh my God!” 

See, this day, I set before you blessing and curse: The blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, that I command you this day, and the curse if you don’t obey the commandments that God has given you, and turn from the path that I enjoin upon you this day. 

And yes, this is what it looks like. 

When murders, we see this curse on the tv screen – of people running and screaming, the blood, the picture of the victim, again and again. 

Reading further in the parasha, two words jump out at me. 

Lo Tigodedu: Do not gash yourself. 

This verse refers to the prohibition of cutting oneself as a sign of mourning. But the rabbis of the Talmud understood it more deeply. They understood that the word Titgodedu (to cut) could come from the root, Aleph, Gimmel, Daled, which means “to bind, meaning the formation of separate groups, sects, factions. So, they read the verse as a prohibition on dividing the community into different sects. [Yevamot 13b- 14a] 

And that’s what we’re witnessing in our country today. Again, and again, the story repeats. When certain groups bond together by cutting themselves off from others in the society – and tell themselves a story in which those other groups are to blame for all the woes in their lives and in the country, the bonding soon turns into gashing. The toxic rhetoric of blaming the other – Jews, blacks, immigrants, LGBT, Muslims, etc. – doesn’t stay as words for long. Soon, the gashing with words turns into actual gashing, and the blood flows from the wounds. 

In her latest book, The Blessing of a B Minus, Dr. Wendy Mogel refers to “Mean World Syndrome,a psychological condition whereby exposure to horrific images in the mass media leads one to be fearful and overprotective. Perhaps, we all have Mean World Syndrome nowadays. How could we not? It doesn’t take long to contract that disease. It only takes a moment to see the car plowing into the people and to become traumatized. 

So what do we do in this mean world of ours?  

We stand together on the mountain and proclaim the blessings. We scream from the rooftops the foundational ideas – that each person is created in the image of God, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. We call for an end for the gashing that strikes at the heart of our nation. We embrace life – as precarious as it is. And we hope that somehow, some way, despite all evidence to the contrary, that blessings will prevail.  

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