Introduction - there is abundant discussion here again of blessings and curses that flow from our decisions and actions related to living inside or outside of covenant with God. We won’t cover much ground we’ve already traversed. But we will explore true gems we find on our journey and consider why Moses places such emphasis at this crucial time on these matters.
I. Read Deuteronomy 26:1-11.
A. Any thoughts about the first verse? “It will be when you enter the land….”
(Let’s recall our learning that God will be what God will be? This word, v’haya, has letters from God’s name. Isn’t there a sense of becoming here for us, too, as we enter the promised land, the time for the beginning of fulfilling the covenant? As God is becoming, we are coming into serving in God’s image, in our enterprise to become a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
B. What strikes you in the next 10 verses? Lots of possibilities.
(1. Lots of verbs! Possess land. Settle. Take first fruits. Go to God’s place. Offer. Recite. These verbs, to me, suggest life.
2. And life with God, more specifically, involved production, offering, and acknowledging gratitude to God for our salvation and sustenance, both in material and spiritual ways.
3. There’s a recognition of our history, our past, our ancestors. We come to the promised land, not out of nowhere, rootless, but rather from people, with a narrative, and with God’s miracles and saving hand. Having the covenant means remembering, among other things.
4. We give of the first and the best to the Source of all we have. We do so out of duty and joy, declaring the truth of all this. And we address our gratitude directly to God.)
II. Read Deuteronomy 13-14. What do you think is the significance of this personal declaration to God?
(Obviously the doing is crucial. But the saying is powerful as well. My speaking to God makes it personal, direct, announced, meaningful. It has the feel of prayer, yet here we’re not asking for help or expressing need; rather we’re notifying God that we have given, we have helped. It has the feel to me of completion of duty in at least this important one respect. Poignant.)
III. Read Deuteronomy 27:1-3, 6. Impressions?
(1. Moses AND the elders command the people. This suggests the increasing role the elders will assume, as Moses departs the scene.
2. It’s the entire instruction that is intended.
3. It is the instruction that is central to their entering the land. It’s the hallmark and the landmark of their being there. Indeed it - physically - is to become the marker at the boundary of the land. This is rich, in its power in defining who we are to ourselves and others and what is to guide us in the promised land.
4. Drawing near to God through offerings, especially those that show gratitude, is always concomitant with our service to God.)
IV. Read Deuteronomy 15-20, 24-27. How is it that this combination of mitzvoth draws curses?
(Isn’t it a balanced representation? Against idolatry, violation of family, demeaning of father and mother (i.e, heritage and tradition),stealing either through a false boundary or misleading the unwary, bribery, striking another, and, more generally, those who do not uphold and do the mitzvoth - both offenses against fellows and God.)
V. Read Deuteronomy 28:2. We’ve studied a lot about the blessings God bestows to the faithful who serve the Divine. We won’t repeat those discussions here - for the most part. But I was intrigued by this verse that these blessings will come into force for you, v’hisigoocha. What’s your translation? (overtake you?) What does this mean?
(It will happen in ways we don’t understand perhaps. It could be quick and overflowing. It could come when we are least aware or “trying.” It could come when logic would dictate otherwise. There’s a sense in this whole discussion of this being God’s consideration in the covenant, but this verse also adds a sense of mystery, and rings of mercy and grace as well.)
VI. Read Deuteronomy 28:6. What does this mean?
(On one level, it suggests again the idea of “all the time,” the bookends of the day, when we come in and go out. Rashi says it’s blessed when we come into life as we are when we leave this life. Perhaps it’s when we come into the various activities of life and when we complete them. Maybe it’s when we come into prayer and when we go out, or when we draw near to God with an offering and when we go out. Think of the song, Shalom Aleichem, in which we wish peace on the ministering angels in their coming to us, their blessing us, and their going.)
VII. Read Deuteronomy 28:32-34. We have spent considerable time on the curses we incur when we abandon God. I don’t want to cover that ground again now. But I was struck by certain verses that are new or seem fresh to me. The first batch here seem poetic, haunting, and rich in meaning. Thoughts on 32?
(Recall this text parallels the blessings in that we lose all that we would gain if we choose to abandon, instead of cleave to, God. If we’re unloving (instead of loving), unjust (instead of just), inattentive (instead of attentive and dutiful), out of balance (instead of in balance), we lose the value, beauty, and richness of our blessings. Once we are lost and abandoned, our children are unmoored and lost, even from us. This is not to say that all always works out well, as we define “well,” in good times. The Bible is simply saying when we go away from God, we should not be surprised to see our children be “given over to another people.” And we will yearn for them, unable to bring them back. Are there examples of this in our own culture?
Next in Deuteronomy 33 we read that all of our production is consumed by people we do not know. Do you have ideas of how this could be and what this might mean?
Finally, we read in Deuteronomy 34 that we will go insane from what we see. Meaning?
VIII. Read Deuteronomy 47. Conventional wisdom is that the blessings and curses are thought to flow from simply following God’s way or not. This verse introduces a powerful and new concept. What is it, and how does it make a difference?
(We are to serve God with joy of heart, with gladness, and with abundance. We should remember that serving God by rote, without delight and liberality, leaves us alone and unfulfilled, too. Just seeing this was important to me upon the reading in that it awakened me to the fact that this is not just work, and never to be dreary. If I’m just going through the motions of service in any sort of way, it’s inadequate and merits my ramping up the excitement and energy and joy to what I do and give.)
IX. Read Deuteronomy 28:54 and 56. These verses seemed fresh and frightening to me. What do you make of them?
(Waywardness isn’t just a personal matter, with only personal consequences. As it spreads and becomes part of the culture and takes over a community, it affects all and indeed can take over and “turn bad” the tender and the delicate (sensitive? or maybe pampered?) in such extreme ways so that even they hurt and abandon their own families. This was particularly poignant and sad to me. Is it for you? Is this possible? Any insights into how and in what ways this could happen?
X. Read Deuteronomy 29:2-4. How do you explain this statement that the people did not have the eyes, mind, and heart to understand until this day? Didn’t God hope/want/expect the people to understand to go straight into the land upon the departure from Egypt?
(It could certainly be that it takes 40 years to fully come out of the narrow straights to the promised land and to fully appreciate God’s saving hand, the amazing gift of God’s love and instruction, and to instill it all in our selves and souls. Or could this be a bit political as well in that Moses is further stressing the differences between generations and the capacity of this generation that he is addressing to understand and live true to the covenant as they enter and live in the land? Or is this just mysterious?)
XI. Read verse 4. What does this mean?
(They made it with God’s help. There was miracle in their sustenance. More spiritually, the midrash says that God clothed the people with the Splendor of His Glory.)
Conclusion - Moses has taught the blessings and curses on several occasions. Why again? Why so prominently does he do so again here as we approach the end of his orations and the end of his life?
(This idea, however we understand it and explain it, that we are blessed to live with God and cursed to live apart, is central to our faith. We can’t over-learn this lesson in all its many manifestations. It bears our constant attention and absorption. In fact, as much as it’s here, we don’t generally give it the emphasis it deserves, and many, including some in the faith community, find ways to fight it or say it isn’t true or interpret it in ways that would be wrong and/or unjust. We are given so many doses of it in the text, as if to implore us to avoid such ways of believing and acting, and instead find ways to be open to these ideas, interpret them to enhance our wisdom, and orient ourselves better to bring ourselves to be near to, and serve, God.)