Ki Tavo: Carrots and sticks

It’s a good day when your appliances work, and so do your joints.

It’s a good day when there’s work to be done, and you have the ability to do it.

It’s a good day when no doctor’s appointments are made, except for the one that says you’re fine,  see you in a year.

It’s a good day when the fridge is full, and so is your home.

It’s a good day when your wallet is full, and there’s enough for the donation basket.

It doesn’t take much to be blessed, but there are endless ways to be cursed.

The dog found a skunk…again.

There was a rejection letter (call/email/tweet)….again.

There was a message from the lab…..again.

There was a call from the bank….again.

There was news from the front…again.

There was a call to war….again.

Again, and again, and again.

Ki Tavo is a list of blessings and curses, now as the Israelites are poised to enter the Land. (I know we’ve been saying that for weeks, but Moses has three “final” speeches plus a poetic song to give  to the people, a fairly captive audience, and he’s not letting go before he’s had his say.)   The blessings really only number about six, and they boil down to good land, fertile crops and families, safety from enemies, and a stable government.

But the curses?  Oy.  This goes on in horrifying detail for over fifty verses!  Not only will there be enemies, but your society will be reduced to mass hysteria.  Not only will your families die, but you will be plagued with all sorts of diseases.  The skies will rain copper, and the land will be like dust until you are wiped out.  If you have a new house, spouse, or land, you’ll never get to enjoy them.   Not only that, but someone else will, and you’ll have to watch.  You will be helpless and “driven mad by what your eyes behold.” (Deut. 28:34). And more.  And more.

Why would there be so many more curses outlined than blessings?  If Moses is trying to make a point, haven’t we learned through years of parenting psychology that the effect of the carrot is more long-lasting than the stick?  Positive reinforcement, we avow, is better than negative reinforcement.  Apparently, we joke, neither Moses nor God have read those psych books. Therefore,  we say, this kind of Biblical passage is exactly what’s wrong with religion – God is a mean old man with a really big stick that He uses to threaten and keep us in line.  Like so many “children” before us, and with our own kids as examples when the restrictions get too tight, we/they just say, “I’m outa here!”

I suggest another way of looking at it. It doesn’t take much to live a blessed life.  What’s written here just about covers it: health, sustenance, love of family and community, safety, and the stability that lets us dream about the future.  But when things go bad, there are endless kinds of suffering.  The description here has no vision of the future, and that’s the worst kind of curse.  The curses here depict a totally disintegrated society…literally dis-integrated.  No one is working together. There is no community, it’s everyone for themselves.  The personal price is very, very high, and so it is for the nation.

We are in charge of our community, we design our societies.  We can work toward a world in which we are blessed with what we need, or cursed by what we can never have.  I don’t see the big stick, I see the way to make sure we all have a carrot.

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