“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Eternal your God that I enjoin upon you this day;
and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Eternal your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced. When the Eternal God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and possess, you shall pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal.”
The Torah portion for this Shabbat, Re’eh, begins with that passage. It doesn’t say what the blessings and curses would be, but it does offer an illustration of what blessing and curse might look like.
Mount Gerizim is just south of the modern city of Nablus, while Mount Ebal stands to the north. Mount Gerizim has numerous springs at its foot and is the more fertile and green of the two mountains. Mount Ebal is more desolate and devoid of vegetation.
In the Torah, and even in our prayers, blessing is a word that can mean “fertile” or even refer to “rain.” One of the daily prayers in the T’filah/Amidah section of the service asks God to grant “rain and dew for blessing” on the face of the earth. We know well in Las Cruces how much rain is a blessing because it is so infrequent. Many areas in the rest of our nation are experiencing a severe drought this year, and daily news programs have been reporting about the effect that the lack of rain will have on food prices in the coming months.
As much as we do have a need for rain in a literal sense, the image of “rain” also speaks to the intangible blessings that we can bring to the world. In Isaiah Chapter 45, the prophet Isaiah brought this message of hope to his people while they were still in exile in Babylonia: “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open , that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to spring up as well. For I, the Eternal One, have created it!”
And while the rain comes from nature or, as some would say, from God’s creation, the rain of blessing that we can offer the world is in our hands to make real. In Gates of Repentance, our High Holy Day prayerbook, we read these words during the Rosh Hashanah evening service: “Words there are and prayers, but justice there is not, nor yet peace….Although we must wait for judgment, we must not wait for peace to fall like rain upon us….Peace will remain a distant vision until we do the work of peace ourselves. If peace is to be brought into the world, we must bring it first to our families and communities….Be not content to make peace only in your own household; go forth and work for peace wherever men and women are struggling in its cause.”
The vision of a fertile mountain filled with blessing in this week’s Torah reading signifies how we can make an impact on the world. Goodness, kindness, compassion, compromise, understanding, commitment, truth, fairness – these are what can make the soil of human life fertile and the landscape of society lush and green. Our choice to act with an eye towards blessing can overcome the deeds of anyone who decides to bring the world and society down to a level where the words “community” and even “love” may have little or no meaning . In our behavior towards each other and in our participation in community life, may all that we choose to do rain down blessing upon the human family and upon all of creation. And let us say Amen.