I am a dramatic person. I think in theatrical terms. I stage readings and dialogues in my head, and often despair that no one else seems to know their lines. This week’s parasha is quite dramatic; there are rituals, script and stage directions to follow, such as the scene when the Israelites are to enter the land, prepare a basket of first fruits recite an abridged history of how they got to this place and time (Deut. 26:5-10). But there is another dramatic moment that caught my eye in reading the text, and it occurs in 27:11:
“Thereupon Moses charged the people saying, “After you have crossed the Jordan, the following shall stand on Mount Gerizim when the blessing for the people is spoken: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. And for the curse, the following shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali. The Levites shall then proclaim in a loud voice to all the people…”
Can you imagine that? The Bible tells us hundreds of thousands of people were gathered there. They were all divided up, sent to hike up a mountain and then listen as the Levites proclaimed in loud voices. How did that exactly work? How could anyone hear anything? To get a clearer vision of the “scene”, I looked online for photos of these particular mountains.
A caption that accompanied this photo said the valley between the two mountains formed a natural amphitheater. Allright, so they all could hear. But notice something else in the picture – Mt Gerizim, where the blessings were addressed, seems to be lush and fertile, while Mt. Ebal, the site of the curses, seems to be barren. These mountains were watered by the same rain, so why would one be green and the other bleak?
The list of curses in this chapter is long, detailed, and requires the people to answer each proclaimed curse with “Amen”, “Ok, we heard you, we get it”. The blessings, on the other hand, require no “Amen”, and are fairly succinct: You’ll be blessed regardless of whether you live in the city or country, your children will be healthy, as will your fields and animals. Your comings and goings will be blessed, so you have no need to fear going about your daily lives. Why not say, “Amen” to that?
We are only weeks from the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, when we look at our lives with great care. We hope and pray for God’s mercy, that we will be blessed for another year. How often do we really notice the blessings in our lives and say, “Amen” to them? Or do we only see the curses, and say our “Amens” back at them, not expecting anything better. Perhaps we are like the two mountains. The same good things are around all of us, but depending on how we view ourselves and and interact with others, those blessings, like rain, either soak in and make things flourish, or they fall on unaccepting ground, where nothing grows. The people heard the same proclamations, both blessings and curses. But maybe the words were received differently by those listening. How do you hear the words around you? Do you hear blessings or curses? What will take root and grow in you this coming year? To what will you say, “Amen!”