“Cursed be he who will not uphold the terms of this Teaching and observe them.—And all the people shall say, Amen.”
— – Deuteronomy 27:26
“All these blessings shall come upon you and take effect, if you will but heed the word of the LORD your God.”
— - Deuteronomy 28:2
How can we talk about blessings and curses in the age of COVID-19? This Torah portion, Ki Tavo, features a series of curses that will happen to people if they don’t act or worship in a specific way. There are also blessings if they do follow the rules, followed by another litany of curses for breaking the rules. Sickness, loss of income, destruction, death – it hits way too close to home right now. No matter your background or how you identify within Judaism or another faith, this portion feels more uncomfortable this year than in previous years. As we persist through a pandemic, economic hardship, racial injustice, mentioning these curses and why they happened is a theological punch in the gut.
The words of Ki Tavo have the potential to irreparably damage one’s faith if the events of the last six months are internalized as punishments for not meeting a divine standard. No one deserves to be sick with COVID-19. No one should have to wonder how they will afford food for their families. No one should be judged by the color of their skin. Ki Tavo is a reminder that our society is not only experiencing the physical and emotional traumas of a pandemic – we are experiencing spiritual trauma – and we must address it. We can pray and meditate and find moments of holy connection as individuals, but we are separated from the communal rituals that add a sense of security to our faith. The places we would go to pray for healing and for peace are closed to many of us and that only exacerbates the pain.
I am grateful to be part of a vibrant community of clergy from so many faith groups, especially during this time. My colleagues and I have learned together, prayed together, and mourned together over the last six months. The need for spiritual care transcends boundaries and allows communities to strengthen each other. Throughout this traumatic time, the faith community has been resilient and ready to help. Synagogues, mosques, churches, and temples have helped with food, funds, school supplies, and advocacy. The languages vary and the beliefs and practices are not all the same, but the understanding that we must attend to the spiritual needs of the community along with the physical needs, that we must help the community heal, is present in all faiths. These past months have taught us that we cannot do this alone, that we can draw on our faith and strong relationships to help each other through this traumatic time.
As 5780 comes to an end and we reflect on the difficulties of the year, may we see the blessings that existed even when the curses loomed large. We can recognize our faith partners and their roles these blessings. May we commit to continuing to work together as we rebuild and heal.