Moshe’s injunction to the nation seems incredibly binary, doesn’t it? All or nothing. Follow or don’t. Believe or not. Does the Torah really mean to make our ritual and theological choices be so cut and dry?
The nuts and bolts (in Yiddish, “tachles”) of the varied commandments are open to interpretation. The Torah presents us with the opportunity for wiggle room. Multiple mitzvot (commandments) as presented in the Torah, will not become binding until Israel is able to cement their infrastructure in the Promised Land. Seriously, to start with: how can you observe the laws of agriculture if you don’t have fields to plant stuff in? How can you observe kashrut when your diet consists solely of heavenly manna and quail?
Easy. The bracha (blessing) and the klala (curse) are both dynamic quantities. Picture a see-saw with rolling marbles on each side. Maintaining the balance becomes more difficult, since the loads are constantly changing. Our job is to be constantly in control of an ever shifting balance.
Ok, maybe not so easy. How can we keep our equilibrium when our fulcrum is constantly shifting? Is it our task to pile matching good/bad, positive/negative, heavy/light commodities onto our personal balance to create personal peace?
I’d suggest that the commodities we typically view as being opposite sides of a balance may not be so. Consider: A sad or distracted person may be healed by the right song, sung at the right time. An individual who is feeing abandoned by their companions may achieve their equilibrium by having someone perform an unprovoked act of kindness in an unanticipated time and place. The right quote, highlighted at the right time, can be a sense of tremendous comfort for someone who is searching for meaning at a time of trouble. We all have our hands on a spiritual steering wheel, where we can turn it to the side of bracha or klala. We all know that driving means making slight course corrections—a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right. If life was a straight line, where we’re either on the route or off to the side, it wouldn’t be life as we know it.
The way we achieve the harmony between the blessing and the curse is an ever evolving, constantly shifting alchemy. Two things are vital to our keeping our balance, like a Fiddler on the Roof. We need to be aware that what allows us to maintain our equilibrium may not necessarily be two equal halves of the same whole. Furthermore, keeping a perfect centrist path is impossible; midcourse corrections are a vital part of the formula. Strive for the straight path, but know that it’s natural to wobble from side to side. However we may wander as we try to find our way, the important thing is that we ultimately get where we are supposed to.
Enjoy the journey.
Shabbat Shalom, and Chodesh Tov; a good month!
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen