Seeing Blessings and Curses

By Reb Daniel Lev

A white horse

רְאֵה, אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם:  בְּרָכָה, וּקְלָלָה.

“See! – I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse”

In the Torah-wisdom excavation business, we know, just like an archeologist, that everything you find, in this case every word, is a doorway to deeper discoveries. Whether the word is central to a sentence, such as the word “you” in the sentence, “you shall not murder,” or if the word seems superfluous to the line, such as the word “see” as in today’s parsha, where it says: “See! I’m setting before you…” The parsha starts us off by seeming to focus us on the last two words of the first sentence. That is, blessings and curses and what we need to do to acquire the first and avoid the second.

Rashi, the French-Jewish, medieval commentator, focused on this in his commentary and not on the word, “see.” On the one hand, this word sitting at the beginning of the sentence is odd. For some readers it is considered out of place. You don’t need the word “see” to understand the core message of the sentence, which is: “Today I’m putting before you a blessing and a curse.” On the other hand, according to our Mesora, our Tradition, every word in the Torah is sacred and is there to teach us something important. So then – what’s “see” doing there? Let’s look at the word, Re’ei – “to see.” It comes from the shoresh, the Hebrew root word, Ra’ah, which has meanings including “to see, observe, understand, feel, and perceive.” It is this last meaning that might teach us something interesting. First, a question: What makes a blessing a blessing and a curse a curse? The word Re’eh tells us that how we perceive a situation determines whether or not we’ll view something as a blessing or a curse. And how we see things guides our actions and has the potential of changing our lives for the bad or the good. The best way of Re-iya, of seeing this, is to tell you a couple of little stories.

Once upon a time in Old China, there was a farmer who had a spirited, teenage son. Each morning the farmer and his friends would meet on his farmhouse porch to share tea and talk before they began their day of work. One day while meeting they saw a beautiful horse wander onto the farmer’s land. He fetched the horse and apparently it had no owner. His friends said, “Oh what a blessing that you now own such a fine horse.” The farmer replied, “Yes, but sometimes a blessing can become a curse.”

The next day during their morning tea, they watched the farmer’s son riding the horse in the front yard. Suddenly, the horse bucked the son off and the boy fell hard on the dirt, breaking his leg. “Oh,” said the neighbors, “What a terrible curse.” As the farmer helped his son limp into the house, he said, “Sometimes a curse, can become a blessing.” A week later, the Emperor’s soldiers came to all the villages in the area and pressed into military service all the young men, who all soon died in a great battle. The farmer’s neighbors sadly met at his porch and saw his son sitting there with his leg up in a thick wrapping. “What a blessing,” they said, “that your son could not go to the war to die.” The farmer said, “Yes but a blessing may turn into a curse….”

Another story comes from the Midrash and tells of the High Priest Aaron who was a maker of peace. Once, two close friends had a screaming argument over practically nothing and this led them to part from one another for good. When Aaron heard about this, he came to the first friend and told him how much his friend regretted the argument and how much he missed him. Then Aaron went to the second friend and told him the same tale. Eventually, the friends met, and embraced with apologies and words of love for one another. These stories teach us a great deal about Re’eh, perceiving. In the Chinese story, situations have a way of opening up different ways of seeing for us.

Different ways of seeing allow us to adapt to the situation and help it become more a “blessing” than a “curse.” For example, before Covid hit us I would rarely do online tele-therapy session with my clients. I felt it was too impersonal and a hassle. Now, that’s all I do and I have discovered that this change in my work style, caused by the plague, has altered my life for the better. I no longer commute to work and clients tend to miss less appointments because they can see me in their living-room. So the curse of Covid-19 has created a bit of a blessing for me, especially when I changed my seeing to perceive it more fully. In Aaron’s story, the estranged friends were not speaking to one another due to an insignificant mashehu, a small crumb of negative seeing. Aaron demonstrated how one can influence the perceptions of others by shifting to bring about peace and renewed loving relationships. I’ll close by blessing you all – and please bless me back – that you should discover what seeing is all about for you. May your seeing help you to differentiate between the right thing to do and the wrong things to do. May you develop the ability to carefully see each situation and perceive its potential towards blessings in your life. May you clearly recognize the evil that looksreally good, and the good that presents itself as evil…and may we all learn from the curses inour lives how we can best pursue blessings.

Ameyn and Good Shabbos!

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