Parshat Ki Tavo

FRIDAY, September 8th

Our Parsha this week includes a long passage enumerating the blessings that await us if we serve God and the curses that will follow if we do not. Among these is the warning that if we fail to obey God, “In the morning you will say, ‘if only it were evening,’ and in the evening you will say ‘if only it were morning,’ because of the dread that your heart shall dread and the sights that your eyes shall see.” (Dev. 28:67) Rashi explains that this means that in the morning we will be longing for the previous evening, and in the evening, the previous morning, always longing for the past, because each moment things will be getting worse and worse. Rashbam (Rashi’s grandson) disagrees, saying the plain meaning is that when the curses come upon us, we will be waiting impatiently for the future, like someone sick, wishing time would pass more quickly. Whether Rashi or Rashbam have the correct interpretation, in effect the curse is the same. Dissatisfaction with the present, expressed as longing for another time, is a curse in and of itself, regardless of external circumstances.

The great 19th century scholar, the Natziv explains that the last part of the verse, “because of the dread that your heart shall dread and the sights that your eyes shall see,” describes two different sources of suffering:  “the sights that your eyes shall see” refers to real dangers, while “the dread that your heart shall dread” means that we will imagine dreadful things even where there are none. Interestingly, the Torah mentions the imagined fears before it does the real ones. Perhaps this is because our own internal assumptions, prejudices, and dispositions influence our perception of reality, more than concrete facts and experiences. This means that the curse about longing for night when it is morning and longing for morning when it is night is as much about our own state of mind as it is about negative circumstances.

Many of us spend much of our lives caught between nostalgia for the past and looking forward to (or dreading) the future. It’s much rarer to simply focus on the experience of the present, whether that experience is joyful or sad, pleasurable or painful. If constantly longing for the past and the future is in itself a curse, let us practice being alive to our present reality and really doing everything we can in the present to make our lives and the world around us a little bit better.

Rabbi Garth Silberstein