As the model for Jewish leadership, Moses did not employ the first person. He spoke in the name of G-d, addressed the Jewish people rather than individuals and used every opportunity to exhort the public to follow the Torah.
One of the few exceptions is in this week’s Torah portion, where Moses actually ventures what could be considered an opinion. “See, I present you today with a blessing and a curse.” The blessing comes when you follow G-d’s commandments and the curse stems from the opposite.
Notice that Moses uses the word “see” rather than “look.” The word “see” is singular rather than plural. Also, Moses, rather than G-d, is presenting the choice of a blessing and curse to the people.
Something is going on here.
Let’s first examine the difference between “see” and “look.” You look for something, whether your child or your phone. You expect or at least hope to find them. In contrast, seeing simply identifies what is in front of you. Looking is active; seeing is passive. The only way you can avoid seeing is by keeping your eyes shut.
Sometimes, a blessing can turn into a curse. David called Samuel the prophet a liar because the latter anointed him as king, which merely enraged Saul to kill the young shepherd. But the opposite is true: David concluded that despite Saul’s homicidal plans, he would nevertheless become king. Saul, despite his minions, would never be allowed to kill David.
Moses is giving his flock 40 years of experience in following G-d’s commands. In this way, he is no different than the wise father or mother who spells out the reality of the world. The choice is blessing or curse. There is no in between. You can’t make a deal with G-d that says, “Spare me your curse and I won’t ask for your blessing.” That might work for other nations. But for the Jewish people it’s one or the other.
Here’s the way Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, the 15th Century Italian-born sage, puts it: “Look and see that your concern will not be the middle way, as other nations behave. Because in fact I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse, and they are two extremes…”
That choice is not only for the Jewish people as a whole. It is a choice for each and every one of us. A blessing cannot be combined with a curse. You can’t have both: The way of the blessing is one that follows G-d totally. The way of the curse denies G-d even when you prefer having Him on a part-time basis.
Most people are not totally bad. Even Hitler married Eva during his last hours in the bunker in Berlin. What makes many people bad is their insistence that good and bad can go together or can rotate, depending on the situation. A good example in our history is Yehoshafat, king of Judea. He is described in Scriptures as a good man who followed in David’s ways and eradicated idol worship.
But Yehoshafat had a weakness for wicked people, especially those from the rival Kingdom of Israel. He first married his son to the daughter of Ahab, one of the most evil kings of Israel. He agreed to contribute his army to Ahab’s war against Aram. The result was disastrous and Ahab was killed by an arrow shot by one of Yehoshafat’s men.
But Yehoshafat had trouble with the learning curve. He again joined with the wicked, this time with Ahazya, Ahab’s son and successor. This time it was going to be a pure business venture. The two kings would join their merchant navies and trade abroad. As David Ben-Gurion, justifying his alliance with West Germany, would say, “Money has no smell.” So, what could be wrong with this partnership?
Well, the same principle applied. Good doesn’t go with bad and the former always shares the fate of the latter. Scripture tells us that the ships of Yehoshafat and Ahazya sank, whether from the overpowering waves of the Mediterranean or the missiles of Persia. Another lesson.
Every morning, a Jew recites the following prayer: “Blessed is our G-d that created us in His honor and separated us from those who stray, Who gave us the true Torah and planted within us eternal life.” That is the blessing G-d offers us — to separate from the evil-doers. It’s our choice.
There are those who feel they’re more clever than G-d. They will partner with the evil ones and when G-d exacts retribution, they will skip away scot-free. The Talmud says this will not work. When you support those who do evil — for whatever reason — you share their fate. Sometimes, you, the so-called righteous one, will even suffer a greater punishment. The reason: The evil one acted on instinct; you acted willfully and aware of the consequences.
Moses’ message could not be more simple: The choice is plain to see. You are responsible for your actions. No excuses.