I met my first boyfriend in college. He was a tall, gorgeous blond Lutheran swimmer. We had never really met anyone like the other before, and we spent a lot of time discussing the differences in our backgrounds. He came to Hillel with me a few times, and I went to a few Sunday church services with him. My grandmother was very upset with this, because she thought that I would be tempted to leave my Judaism by exposure to his Christianity. There was no value in being curious about another path. The value was holding tight to the path on which I was simply placed. I’m reminded of her admonitions as I read this week’s parasha, Re’eh. (Deut. 11:26 – 16:17)
In his continuing farewell words to the Israelites, Moses gives out warnings, and many revolve around not getting too chummy with the neighboring communities, in case the Israelites would be tempted by their gods, beliefs or practices. “Beware of being lured into their ways…Do not inquire about their gods, saying “How did those nations worship their gods? I too will follow those practices.” (Deut. 12:30). It might seem easier if there were no “others” around us to tempt us away from the path, but as I argued with my grandmother back then, how sure could I be in my beliefs if I didn’t test and grapple and question them?
In the opening of this parasha we read, “This day I set before you blessing and curse, blessings if you obey the commandments of Adonai, curse if you do not obey the commandments….and turn away from the path” (Duet 11:26-28) A simple reading of the text is saying that following the Laws equals blessings, and not following them equals curses; that bad things happen when you start wondering about other paths.. Yet, curiosity was built into our world, right from the Garden of Eden. Curiosity is a gift from God; a blessing, if you will. So, the question then becomes how to be blessed with curiosity and not cursed with it.
The key is learning and engagement. In Torah language, we may read, “obey the commandments”, but in modern understanding, we might say “engage with the commandments, with Jewish life”; be curious about them, understand, challenge and, think about them. That is a blessing. For those who live only knowing their own ways, the ways of the “other” are very dangerous. It is a cursed curiosity, because when we don’t engage with the commandments, don’t “try them on for size”, don’t question or delve deeper into the teaching, we may be more easily lured off the path into un-grounded wandering.
It’s not easy to be curious. There are risks to learning more and more about other ways of thinking and believing. That’s what bothered my grandmother, because much of her Jewish life was an unquestioned, uncurious path. As we are given a choice, may we choose the blessed curiosity.