This portion begins with the wonderful privilege given to us humans at the beginning of creation, that sets us apart, that leads us throughout our lives, namely, free will.
The right to choose between good and evil, blessing and curse.
The obligation to be responsible for our decisions at any given moment. The good and successful decisions, but also the decisions that are less so.
Even when we seem to be operating on “automatic,” when it seems someone already decided for us, in a real moment of honesty and soul-searching, we realize that we choose.
Deciding what to choose is supposedly easy! Who wouldn’t choose THE BLESSING?! But what is the blessing? What is the good path, the right direction? Is it blind obedience? Or sometimes, paradoxically, a healthy dose of skepticism?
One of the main Jewish prayers is: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) Moses told us to hear and listen. And one of the things we need to listen to is the dialogue of our inner conscience.
Note, the word that opens this Torah portion is “See…” In this portion we are asked to sharpen our vision, to observe and discern, because we live in a society together with other people. Are we looking distractedly in different directions? Is our focus on others who are more successful? More talented? More wealthy? More acceptable? Does this make us want to imitate them? To be like them?
This desire to be like others, keeps us away from God. It makes us move away from our heart and the spirit that dwells within us, and then worship their gods. That is idolatry. One of the warnings that Moses warns the people of Israel, before entering the Land of Israel, is not to look at the nations living there in envy, not to want to be like them. Moses knows that this will keep the people away from God and make them worship other gods.
If we continue to read in the parasha (portion) it seems that this instruction continues like a golden thread, a scarlet cord… “You shall have no other gods before me.” Even if they look more worthwhile and more seductive. Indeed many times they do look that way.
Others may seem to be more successful, richer, more beautiful. It may seem like their lives are more comfortable, better, and even happier. Not for nothing is this commandment repeated, because it is not at all easy.
Our tendency is precisely to want to be like the other, precisely yes to succeed like him, to emulate him. Hence this Torah portion comes and tells us to discern. You have to see clearly to discern which of the choices before you is actually leading to blessing.
Seeing clearly demands I get free from illusions. Sometimes the blessing is as clear as daylight, and it is easy for us to choose it. But sometimes the blessing is hidden and we need deep contemplation.
It’s the same with the curse. Sometimes it immediately “smacks” us on the head, and we straightaway see where we went wrong. But sometimes it takes us years to realize… that the place we are in is harmful to us!
Then, when we finally wake up and see more clearly, the choice is again ours: Good or bad, Blessing or curse.
And if we would choose the blessing, we must remember that living in blessing requires daily work, daily discernment of what is “the good.” Am I distractedly looking at others? Complaining? I must come to clearly know what keeps me away from God. The connection to God is the goal that guides us in this search. When we are connected to God we will know that we have heard well and seen well.
And even when there is clear knowledge, one should keep in mind that life is dynamic and subject to change all the time. Working with the blessing is daily work, as we aim to enter into his rest* and into our inheritance.