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Re'eh 5781 ~ August 6, 2021

The opening words of our Torah portion for this Shabbat provide us with an opportunity to explore extremes.  It begins: “Re’eh, see, this day, I set before you blessings and curses.” The medieval commentary Sforno states: “Remember that I present you this day with the choice of two extremes, opposites. The ברכה (berakha), the blessing, is an extreme in that it provides you with more than you need, whereas the קללה (kelala), the curse, is another extreme making sure that you have less than your basic needs. You have the choice of both before you; all you have to do is make a choice.”

Over the years, I am certain that you have experienced many teachings that advise you to choose the blessings over the curses. It is no accident that this Torah reading precedes the new month of Elul – a month in which we anticipate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Making choices is a theme and engaging ourselves in a self-discussion and evaluation of the blessings and the curses that have occurred in our lives during the past year seem always to be the refrain. If we choose to heed the advice, we will choose blessing. Similarly, we do have the opportunity to make choices that turn into the curses we regret. Or, we make choices that purposefully are misguided ones. As the Torah says, we get to choose. We also realize that, at times, what may appear at first to be a blessing might present itself down the road in actuality with a less than desirable outcome and visa versa.

What seems to be missing from the choices is neither the blessing, nor the curse, but the middle ground. Perhaps we have arrived at a certain period of our lives with, hopefully, a wiser understanding of life.  We cherish those moments of blessing, yet would it not be truthful to say that we are just as excited to experience the middle ground moments? They can be just as fulfilling.

During our vacation, Lisa and I had the opportunity to attend a Yankees-Red Sox game at Fenway Park. For those who have followed the teams these past few weeks, it was the Thursday night game which was rain delayed in the middle and in which the Red Sox pulled off a miracle win in overtime. The game was at times rather uneventful. Fans would yawn. Others went to the concession stands.  Some left due to the lateness of the evening and the lackluster game. On the field, a player occasionally would reach base. I would watch the next batter make every attempt to bring his teammate home with what he hoped would be a homerun. I wondered what happened to the concept of not hitting for the extreme, but instead simply moving the man on to the next base. Let the next one up to bat then bring him home with another hit. Or what about the concept of a walk is as good as a run. In this instance, reaching for the ברכה (berakha), blessing, a homerun, may bring about the opposite result…an outfield catchable fly, without moving the runner forward to the next base. It seems that the players only understood the extremes. It was that kind of game play that could be exciting, but more often than not, for the fan, it was anything but.

I cannot speak for the game plan of the teams on the field, but I can ask: Why then did the Torah not provide us with the middle ground moments? Only the concepts of extremes? I would like to believe it is because we are trained to as the Torah opens: re’eh, see, the extremes. Throughout our lives we have been conditioned to think in only those terms, blessings or curses, wins or losses, wealthy or impoverished, or as we prepare for the High Holy Days, good deeds and sin, reward and punishment.

However, if we use the wisdom to “re’eh,” “to see,” then we grasp the truth that the middle ground is more often than not just as satisfying. 

For example, while we might always wish that we purchased the stock that brought us the fortune of Forrest Gump, more often than not we have as many bad choices as good ones. Then again, if instead we concentrated on the middle ground stocks, bonds or funds, our yield might not have been as fanaticized as on the movie screen, but our returns might still have been extremely rewarding, without all of the related concerns of the blessings and curses of the market.

The same is true with marriage. I often ask future brides and grooms to share with me the great moments they have experienced; I also ask them to share with me the challenging ones. I can often tell that they know how to be there for each other to celebrate or to assist the other. The reality then hits when I ask them to share a moment that is neither exciting or challenging and how they felt about it, and that is when I can see what the chances for success are with that marriage.

We have conditioned to see the blessing and the curses. It’s nice to know that we can also “re’eh,” “see” the middle ground and be content with its rewards and blessings; and the challenges are usually much easier to deal and live with.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782