“When Adonai, your God, brings you to the land which you come to inherit, you shall declare the blessing towards Mount Gerizim and the curse towards Mount Ebal.” (Deuteronomy 11:29)
The Jews fulfilled this command in the following fashion: Six tribes stood on one mountain and six on the other. In between them stood the Holy Ark and the elders of the Kohanim and Levites. The latter turned first towards Mt. Gerizim and said the words recorded in the Torah in the form of a blessing for those who obey the particular command. The entire nation then answered “Amen.” They then turned around and faced Mt. Ebal, repeating the same command in the form of a curse for those who disobeyed it, and all answered, “Amen.”
We may see in the manner in which these blessings and curses were declared a lesson for the nation entering its promised land. A man may conduct himself in a manner worthy of blessing, but if he turns away from his responsibilities, even momentarily, he may be inviting the opposite.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch teaches:
Gerizim and Ebal are two peaks of the Ephraim range of mountains, which still show striking contrast in their appearance. Gerizim to the south of the valley of Shechem presents a smiling green slope rising in fruit-covered terraces to its summit; Ebal, on the north side, steep, barren, and bleak, slightly higher than Gerizim. The two mountains lying next to each other form accordingly a most telling instructive picture of blessing and curse. They both rise on one and the same soil, both are watered by one and the same fall of rain and dew, the same air breathes over both of them, the same pollen wafts over both of them, and yet Ebal remains in barren bleakness while Gerizim is clad to its summit in embellishment of vegetation. In the same way, blessing and curse are not conditional on external circumstances, but on our own inner receptivity for the one or the other, on our behavior towards that which is to bring blessing.
For ancient Israel, the blessings and curses were located at particular mountaintops. For us, many of our mountains are metaphoric, and so we can ask: How are blessings and curses dependent on our own inner receptivity for the one or the other, on our behavior towards that which is to bring blessing?
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)