Parashat Ki Tavo

Discovering The Relationship Between Curses And Blessings

By viewing the troubles and joys of our lives as part of a continuum we can uncover blessings even in the most challenging curses.

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Do you agree with the Baal Shem Tov that evil can actually be converted into good?

According to Frankl, what kind of inner strength do you think is needed to turn a personal tragedy into a triumph? How would you access that strength? What would the personal cost be to you if you couldn’t?

What enabled the Pearl family to create a blessing in response to the tragedy that befell them?

D'var Torah

At times the pain that we encounter in our lives is overwhelming and seems insurmountable. In such moments, the philosophy of Heschel, the spirit of the Baal Shem Tov, the wisdom of Frankl, and the courage of the Pearl family may seem beyond our grasp. All these teachers chose to find the relationship between curses and blessings, and we are left wondering how they were able to make that choice.

One way to understand the interconnection between curses and blessings can be found at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion. Moses teaches the Israelites the importance of expressing gratitude for all that God has given them: They are free, they are blessed with plenty to eat, and they have good leadership. Moses teaches the Israelites about tithing, explaining that ten percent of their crops should be given to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. When performed with a generous spirit and a grateful heart, their actions will bring them blessings from God.

In order to find gratitude during challenging life situations, we have to look beyond ourselves and, at the same time, deep within ourselves. Doing that requires a tremendous amount of inner strength, which we can draw from the support of our community and God’s loving-kindness. In combination, our friends and our faith can enable us to transcend the challenge and find a blessing embedded within a curse--and perhaps even convert a curse into a blessing.

Just as metal is molded and shaped by fire, so are we shaped and transformed by the fire in our lives. This realization enables us to see that curses and blessings are opposite ends of the same continuum, both part of the eternal cycle of life. Our fate lies in the choices we make. Balak chose to listen to God. The Baal Shem Tov chose to convert evil into good. When Frankl found himself impotent to change his environment, he chose to change himself instead. The Pearl family chose to pass Daniel’s teachings onto others when he was no longer able to teach them himself.

My fervent prayer for all of us this Shabbat is that we choose to realize the blessings in the world and in our lives.

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Andrew F. Klein is the assistant rabbi of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, Great Barrington, Mass.