Monday, August 29, 2011

A Blessing And A Curse

Okay, all you Bible’s something for you to think about. It’s the opening of the parasha Re'eh, Deuteronomy, chapter 11, verse 26:

 רְאֵה אָנכִי נתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה
[Re'eh ano'chi notain lif'naychem ha'yom b'racha u'k'lalah.]
See! I set before you today a blessing and a curse

Here’s the thing, the first word is “Re’eh” and that word  means to see. It’s singular, as in, “Hey, fella! See here.”  But the next line has the word "lif’naychem" which translates to “before you” but the you is the plural “you,” as in “before all you folks.”

Rabbi Allen actually talked about this in shul on Shabbos, but it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered this particular sentence. Many moons ago, when I was a starry eyed teenager suffering the first pangs of political awareness, the same line had a profound impact on my thinking. It was good to be reminded of it.

If you're reading the verse in English translation, you can't see the difference because we don't have a plural formation of "you."   And since I don't believe that little word play is an accident or an editorial throw away, not seeing the difference between the singular and the plural forms changes the meaning of the line in huge ways. The precept that individuals comprise a group is lost in the translation. Think about that for a minute.  Then think about hopping on my thought train for a moment.

The Sages explain the 40 years in the desert as a way to ensure that the ones who left Egypt as slaves were all dead by the time the people are preparing to enter the land of Canaan. The collective mentality (as in the Borg “you will be assimilated”) that is  crucial to survival as a slave, has now been replaced a more broader thinking process necessary for self-determination. The rag-tag refugees are now coalescing into a functional society complete with differences of opinion.

And that’s okay. From Genesis forward,  the Five Books of Moses is pretty much geared toward that very instant when the Israelites fully understand they have control over choosing their actions.

Chagall's version
From the moment the woman eats from the Tree of Knowledge, the ignorance defense is gone forever. And that part about the man eating the fruit the woman gave him? That becomes about choosing to do wrong. This isn't about the mythology of the Bible, it's about choosing. We can choose to do a right thing or we can choose to do a wrong thing. It's a decision each individual gets to make. You don't get to blame the serpent.

And right on the heels of that comes this: the part about social responsibility. I don’t know if anyone could’ve said it any clearer or more succinctly: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Note that the word we traditionally translate as "keeper" is  הֲשׁמֵר - [ha'shomer] comes from the root שמר which means "to guard." Well, actually, the answer turns out to be yes, we are our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers.

So, here’s the Muppet News Flash: you are not exempt from social responsibility and if you (singular) are not recognizing the need for social responsibility, you (singular) are gonna have a lot of explaining to do at the end of days. This is the age of too much information and no one, not even the Holy One, is going to believe that you weren’t more concerned with your bank account than your good deeds account.

Get this one straight: I am not talking about tax cuts v. tax hikes, or budget cuts v. increased spending. I am talking about remembering that for every choice there is a consequence. If you choose to cut all social programs, you get to own a piece of the consequences of those cuts. Just make extra sure you fully understand what your choices mean beyond the immediate future... two, five, or ten years down the road.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

© 2011, Steven G. Artley, ARTLEY CARTOON
Need I say more?
(other than "Thank you, Steve Artley!")


  1. I agree with just about everything you said... except maybe the part about being my sister's keeper. (I think she's better off on her own.)

  2. Amen! Well said, Wifely Person. It's amazing that many readers of the Scriptures only focus on personal piety and miss the bigger emphasis on social responsibility.

  3. You are a hoot!! Keep it up. Grateful for your wit and intelligence.

    from the hills of NH.