Our Parasha contains what is a recurring theme in the Torah, especially in the book of Deuteronomy. It contains a long section with blessings for those who obey God and curses for those who disobey. As usual, these are mentioned as a way of encouraging good behaviour and discouraging bad.
The existence of such curses seems surprisingly harsh to many a modern reader. Yet the traditional Jewish way of understanding these curses is not as Divine retribution for disobeying God’s wishes, but rather as the tragic, unfortunate, eventual natural consequences of neglecting our responsibilities towards ourselves, the people with whom we interact, other living creatures, and the land on which we live.
Today, looking around the world with the aid of modern technology and the understandings of modern science, it is easier to see how individuals’ choices affect them and those around them long into the future. If we choose to open our eyes to it we can see how true the metaphor of the boat passenger who drills a hole just under his own seat is. We should not only dwell on the negative, though; the opposite is just as true. One person’s good deeds has a good effect on the entire world. (One person who notices a leak under their seat and plugs it saves all the passengers.)
The haftarah this week ends with the encouraging words, “Your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever.” With the High Holidays approaching we can all benefit from a reminder that we all have the potential to do good, and the magnitude of the effects doing good has. It is never too early to begin.