In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.
Moses presents a stark choice between obedience and disobedience towards God. Obedience will lead to blessing, but turning away will lead to destruction. His sermon details the rules for living on the land and to avoid succumbing to the practices of the Canaanites.
See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.
Sifrei Devarim 53:1
An analogy: A person is sitting at the crossroads, with two paths stretching before him, one, whose beginning is level and whose end is thorns , and one whose beginning is thorns and whose end is level. … Thus did Moses speak to Israel: You see the wicked prospering — For two or three days they will prosper in this world, and in the end, they will be cast away … They see the righteous suffering in this world. Their end is to rejoice …
Pirke Avot 3:15 (Rabbi Akiva)
Everything is foreseen yet freedom of choices is granted, And the world is judged with goodness; And everything is in accordance with the preponderance of works.
Avot D’Rabbi Natan 39
A human is incapable of grasping God’s likeness. But if not for his sin, they would give him the keys, and he would know how heaven and earth were created. He would also say: Everything is planned. Everything is revealed. Everything is knowable. He would also say: Everything is given in trust, and a net is spread out over all living things. … Power buries those who wield it. … The wicked are paid in this world — that is, the people who act as if they follow the Torah, but they have evil intentions, and there was never any good in them. The righteous accrue credit — that is, people who follow the Torah with good intentions, and there was never any bad in them. Both types receive just a little in this world, but for the righteous, a large remainder is accounted for the future. He would also say: Everyone leaves this world naked; if only one’s leaving the world can be like one’s coming into the world!
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Repentance
This is as if saying, the power is in your hand, and whatever human activity a person may be inclined to carry on, that person has a free will to elect either good or evil.
Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, 18th century, Ukraine
“See, this day I set before you …” The word “today” is apparently unintelligble [unnecessary]. But it is known that the Holy One “out of divine goodness, continually renews the work of Creation every day” — meaning that God gives new illumination and sends out new kindnesses each day. Hence, a person who serves God receives illumination and new insight each day, something they had not known the day before. Hence it is written, “See, I set before you today,” in accordance with what our sages have said: “‘Today’ – let [words of Torah] seem to you each day as if they were new.” That is, each day you will receive a blessing and a new kindness.
Elimelech of Lizhensk, 18th century, Ukraine
One who makes great lights, God’s kindness endures forever (Ps. 136:7) – behold, the two lights are Love and Awe, and both of them were great equally … And we find that the root of love is called “seeing,” as we explained, since love is not completed without seeing. “Blessing” is a hint to love, and “curse” a hint to Fear … the blessing resides in listening … that you listen and notice at all times … “The curse, if you not listen,” that is to say, if you don’t watch out for yourselves … That is why a person needs to pay attention always, and watch out for themselves at every moment, so it will be a blessing …
The same experience, the same day, can be a blessing or curse depending on how we see and listen to that experience. It depends on how we face our experience:
Nachman of Breslov, 18th century, Ukraine
This is the meaning of: See, therefore that I am placing before you today both a blessing and a curse: specifically “in your PaNIM [face]”
Above, [the light] is … closed and sealed. But “before you,” below, the light takes shape in accordance with the aspect of the vessel.