This week’s portion deals with protocol before entering the Promised Land. Starting at the end of chapter 26, Moses begins describing the blessings that come from walking in the statutes and ordinances given to Israel by God. Then come the “marching orders” on how to enter the land. Moses and the elders of Israel command the people; “Keep all the commandments which I command you today. And…you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over.” They then were to journey to Har Ebal (Mount Ebal) and set up the stones as a testimony so that, as it is written, “…you may enter the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” It was contingent upon the children of Israel to heed these instructions in order for them to enter the Promised Land.
Once the nation of Israel arrived at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim the nation split into two parts. Half of the tribes stood on Har Ebal, the “Mount of Cursing,” while the other half stood on Har Gerizim, the “Mount of Blessing.” 
This is not to say that there is any place in Israel that is cursed. It was just in this place that the children of Israel recognized and affirmed their covenant with God. This was in recognition of the blessings or the curses that come with following God’s commandments or not.  Chapter 28 gives us a full description of what those blessings and curses look like when the Nation of Israel follows in God’s ways or decides to go astray. In the list of blessings, just as in the list of curses there is a progression that builds. The blessings don’t come all at once, just as the curses don’t come all at once. Each are a building block, one upon the other, either toward blessing or toward brokenness.
Some (as I did) will look at chapter 28 and ask, “Why are there more curses than blessings?” I want to propose two answers here. The short answer would be, that all the curses we read in chapter 28, can also be read as blessings. How? Because if Israel did not walk contrary to God, then all the curses we read about, wouldn’t happen either. Instead the exact opposite of all the curses would happen when Israel followed God’s ways. This is one way to understand how we can read the curses as blessings.
What is another reason so many curses are written in Deuteronomy 28?
We must realize that the “curses” we read of are actually the consequence of disobedience to God’s law.  The “blessing” of the curses is that they help us get back on the right track. Pain is a blessing to the body because it tells us that something is wrong. So too, the curses are a blessing because they tell us that we’re going wrong.
The nation of Israel, along with all of God’s people are more accountable to God’s standard. He will not allow those who say they follow Him to continue in sin. He has an advanced acceleration program for His people. The curses are sped up and come much quicker for disobedience, so we might turn back from our sin and look to Him. The curses become more severe and brutal the further we stray from the “Good Shepherd.”
The curses are a blessing in disguise. The reason so many curses are written down is to show us how desperate God is for us to turn back to Him. It is to show us how far we can stray from God, and yet how willing He is to take us back.
In Luke 15 we read the story of the prodigal son. What we don’t hear is the conversation between father and son when the soon-to-be-prodigal asks for his inheritance. But if it had been written down I think it may have sounded a bit like Deuteronomy 28.
Yet, you have to hear the heart of a father…I don’t think the prodigal’s father stood there and cursed his son, or even wanted his son to be cursed. He knew however, what would happen when his son left home, and he wanted to warn his son of the consequences of his choice. Can you see the prodigal’s father standing there with tears streaming down his cheeks, saying, “Son, if you leave me, ‘Cursed will you be in the city, in the field, and wherever you go. Cursed will be your children, the work of your hand, and you will be destroyed.’” This wasn’t the harshness of a demanding father; it was the broken heart of an “Abba” whose son was leaving him. It was a father who wanted his son to know the consequences of his decision, but a father who was also willing to allow his son to leave.
I believe when we read Deuteronomy 28 this week, let’s read it as God’s warning of love to us. Can you hear Him weeping over all the children who have taken their inheritance and left Him for dead? He is still waiting as the prodigal’s father was waiting in the story; Waiting for His children to return! He sees just as the prodigal’s father saw that His children would end up eating carob pods with the pigs. It is the curse of leaving the Father’s house; this is where the curses lead. Deuteronomy 28 is the heart-cry of God to His children telling us where the road away from home leads and what staying with Him could look like instead. Yet He allows us to choose, and He always takes us back when we stray.
Return of the Prodigal” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)
One of my favorite sayings is one by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov where he says, “The whole entire world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is to have no fear at all.”
I have already used this quote once in a different “observation,” but for this week I think what we can learn, is to recognize that all of us are on the “the bridge to repentance.” All of us have been a prodigal at some point, and we are all on a journey, hopefully headed back to our Father’s house. But we can’t do it alone. We need to encourage each other forward on the “highway of holiness to Zion.” (Isaiah 35:8)
As we enter into this season of the year where we begin searching ourselves and walking in paths of Teshuvah (Repentance), may our Teshuvah lead all of us prodigals back to our Father’s house! Today figuratively, but hopefully very soon, literally as well, “When all nations will stream to the house of God in Jerusalem, where He will teach us His ways, we will walk in His paths and war will never be learned again!” (Isaiah 2)
As it is written in Da’at Zkenim, “In this lower world there exists a mixture of blessing and curse; in the world after the arrival of the Messiah there will be only blessing.”
May it be soon and in our days!
Shabbat Shalom,

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