"When Adonai your God, brings you to the land which you come to inherit, you shall declare the blessing towards Mount Gerizim and the curse towards Mount Ebal." (Devarim 11:29)
The anticipation is great. After 40 years of journeying through the desert, with the Promised Land in sight, we were instructed to enter a valley and offer blessings towards one mountain and curses towards another. The difference between a blessing and a curse is the difference between facing one mountain or another, facing east or west, north or south.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote about this moment with the following words:
Gerizim and Ebal are two peaks of the Ephraim range of mountains which still show striking contrast in their appearance. Gerizim to the south of the valley of Shechem presents a smiling green slope rising in fruit covered terraces to its summit; Ebal on the north side, steep, barren, and bleak, slightly higher than Gerizim. The two mounts lying next to each other form accordingly a most telling instructive picture of blessing and curse. They both rise on one and the same soil, both are watered by one and the same fall of rain and dew, the same air breathes over both of them, the same pollen wafts over both of them, and yet Ebal remains in barren bleakness while Gerizim is clad to its summit in embellishment of vegetation. In the same way, blessing and curse are not conditional on external circumstances but on our own inner receptivity for the one or the other, on our behavior towards that which is to bring blessing.
Where shall we begin in 2017?
The difference between a blessing and a curse is in our hands, body language and perspective. It is as simple as the way we greet one another and engage with people on the street. It is as simple as the websites we read, the cable news we watch and the papers we pick up. It is as simple as the ways we view life, appreciating all the gifts life has given us even in the face of illness or bad fortune.
"See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse." (Deut. 11:26) In the Fall, we will read further in Deuteronomy that we are to choose life and blessings. Please, choose blessings! You can do it.
Rabbi Ron Symons is senior director of Jewish Life at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.