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Blessings and Curses

On the first of Tishrei, 1947, my Bubbe was standing outside shul with a friend when a tall, handsome man (her words) walked up and asked her friend, “Aren’t you going to introduce me to this beautiful girl?”

“Oh, I like you!” she replied. 

Thus began the greatest love story I know: a nearly 60-year partnership between two people who almost exclusively called each other “Sweetheart” and “Dear.” It’s like the initial moment of their meeting set them on a path of abundant blessing, leaving them as madly in love at my Zayde’s death as they were when they met as teenagers. 

As a child, it was easy for me to see my grandparents’ relationship as kismet. “Their” song was “It Had to Be You” by Frank Sinatra, and my childhood memories are full of moments where they were singing or dancing together as Frank crooned, “With all your faults, I love you still; It had to be you, wonderful you, it had to be you.” 

As an adult, I talk to my Bubbe about all the ways they worked hard to remain connected, aligned, and awed by each other. Of course, they experienced loss and hardship, got angry with each other or felt disappointed. But they took each other seriously and they took their relationship seriously, and their life together felt abundantly blessed. 

So many of us spend much more time on what is going wrong in our lives than what is going right. We may see the blessings, express gratitude for what we have and enjoy, but we give more of our attention to our curses.

The parashah we read this week, Behukkotai, is known for being the first of two iterations of the tokekhah—a series of gruesome curses God threatens to bring if the Israelites don’t respect God’s mitzvot. And yes, those are in there, and yes, they’re really bad. But the parashah starts with the blessings. If we are going to think of this as the parashah of the worst case scenario, then we should also remember that first we read the best case scenario.

I’m not suggesting that we should try to reframe our curses as blessings. But I find some hope in God’s promise that even when things are at their worst, “I will not forsake you, I will remember my covenant with you.” We will not be alone in our cursedness, at least not forever. Curses do not need to become blessings, and people who are suffering should not necessarily be asked to find a silver lining to their pain. But in the moments when I am inundated with grief, anger, or despair, I am comforted by remembering that blessings are also possible. 

The reason I idolize my Bubbe is because she is able to give the good more attention than the bad. When my Zayde died 17 years ago, I moved in with my Bubbe for a month, and we spent countless hours drinking tea and re-telling stories of his life. Even when she was deepest in her grief, she remembered how blessed she felt to have been his partner. She still lives this way; she can express her sadness to be at a wedding without her Dear, but she will also still hit the dance floor as soon as the music gets going. For her, blessings and curses are facts of life, and she can live with both. At 93 years old, she retains the ability to say to the world, “With all your faults, I love you still.” I pray that I can be the same.