The Right Choice
This week's portion speaks of the good that will befall the Jewish people if they live up to being a light to the nations, and then talks about what will happen if not. Unfortunately, the latter part of the portion is much more the story of Jewish history than the former.
The "curses" do seem incredibly harsh, but allow me to explain.
Jews do not look at God as One Who "punishes" us for our "sins." Rather, in a world of cause and effect; there are consequences to our actions. Good begets good, and bad, bad. This is reflected very clearly in the physical world. If you know that a certain food is poisonous and you eat it, you have only yourself to blame when you become ill. Don't blame God for making harmful food; it's your own fault for eating it.
Conversely, if you eat properly and exercise regularly, you will probably be healthy. Of course, there are no guarantees; there are health freaks who get sick, and those who jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and survive. But in general, we live in a world of cause and effect. Do things in the appropriate manner and life will go well. Make mistakes and you will have problems.
The same is true in the spiritual realm. There are consequences to our choices. And this is what the Torah is pointing out. Make the right spiritual choices and the world will work for you. Make the wrong ones and the world will turn on you. It's all spelled out for us and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we jump off a spiritual building - and land with a big bang.
When things go wrong in life, we usually look for someone to blame. When we run out of people to blame, God is the obvious next choice. It's so easy to become angry with God for our problems. The reality is, though, He has warned us: eat the poison and you will be sick.
But why make consequences? Why not make the world just a pure Garden of Eden?
Imagine it: a perfect world. It doesn't matter what you do, everything turns out just right. Spend all day watching Desperate Housewives and your business still makes millions. Be obnoxious and people love you. Swear at people and they smile back. Steal and you never get caught. Drive like and lunatic and you never crash. Jump out of a plane with no parachute at 30,000 feet and you don't even ruin your hairdo.
Is that perfection? Is that the type of world we would want?
Personally, I can't imagine anything worse. Such a world would be completely and utterly meaningless. Without consequences - both good and bad - nothing at all would matter. There would be no purpose to our choosing.
Consequences make life exciting. They mean that our actions matter; that our choices make a difference.
We want a world of consequences, and we have been given a world of consequences. If we make the right choices, the consequences will be wonderful. But we often make the wrong choices and face painful consequences as a result. Instead of asking ourselves why we ate the poison, we blame God for putting it there in the first place. The solution is to make the right choice.