According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it is no coincidence that our Torah portion this week, Ki Tavo, is always read in the week's leading up to Rosh Hashana. That is because it contains a long list of 98 curses that Israelites will be cursed with if they choose to not follow God's Mitzvoth. According to the Rebbe, when we read Ki Tavo and are
preparing for the High Holy Days, our goal is Teshuvah, or repentance. We are in the process of making important decisions about how we want to behave, reflecting on the past year, and what we might want to do differently in the next. Which is why we remind ourselves of all of the curses that might befall us, to warn us, to scare us, into setting our sails in the right direction.
While I would encourage all of us to reflect on the past year, in hope of helping us learn and grow as we prepare for the next, I am a little troubled by the Rebbe's logic. Fear can be a powerful motivator, but is not why I choose to follow God's
and behave ethically. I make the choices I do, and strive to be better in the year ahead, because I want to. Living my life in a way that is infused with meaning and fulfillment is rewarding.
This is one of the many reasons that when the long list of curses in our Torah portion is read from the Torah in Synagogue this week, it is traditionally done so in a whisper, and quietly. While Ki Tavo is often defined by the curses, the curses don't have to define who we are, or how we behave.
Similarly, as we embark on our journey of reflection over the High Holy Day season, and prepare to do Teshuvah, or repentance, often times we focus on the bad, what went wrong, and where we messed up. And while we need to acknowledge our shortcomings so we can grow, like Ki Tavo
, may we also be able to appreciate the good, and be thankful for the many blessings we experience as well.