“One should live with the times.”1 At first glance, this could imply adapting to current ideologies and trends. But Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, often repeated this dictum with a far different intention. He’d explain that “One should live with, and experience in one’s own life, the specific teachings of that week’s Torah portion.”

Parshat Re’eh contains allusions to the approaching Days of Awe, calling on us to initiate the process of spiritual introspection. Not surprisingly, it begins with “See, I put before you this day a blessing and a curse—a blessing if you listen to the commandments of your G‑d … and a curse if you do not listen to the commandments of your G‑d.”2

Ibn Ezra notes that, although Moses was speaking to the entire Jewish people, the Hebrew word (re’eh) is singular. This indicates that every person is to listen to what Moses is saying, as if he was speaking to him or her, individually.

As we enter the Hebrew month of Elul, we focus on the spiritual preparation for the upcoming High Holy Days. Are we ready to confront those inner stumbling blocks that prevent us from progressing, spiritually and personally? It’s time to realistically evaluate our thoughts, actions and lifestyles.

To cultivate real change that lasts, we must be willing to see ourselves clearly—not through the lens of the past but as we appear right now. How would we like to see ourselves in the year to come—same old, same old, or moving closer to who we’re striving to become? Living with the times also means utilizing our present opportunity to make a life-affirming change. Now is the optimal time for serious spiritual work.

Why does the first line of the portion of Re’eh begin with the word “see”? Are blessings and curses visible? Sometimes, they may appear to be obvious, but what seems to be a curse can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

The word “see” alludes to a heightened kind of vision, one that is more than just physical. It includes one’s inner vision or insights. The sages taught us that a wise person is “one who sees that which is born.”3 This means seeing and discerning all of the possible consequences of our actions.

It’s interesting to note that the first letters of the Hebrew word for “blessing” (berachah) and “curse” (kelalah)—bet and koof—have the same combined numeric value as the Hebrew word for “faith” (emunah): 102. 4 Faith helps us see the hidden good in our lives.5 Perhaps this is why the Talmud instructs us to bless both the good and the bad;6 everything that G‑d does ultimately will come to be seen as good.

Another lesson from Parshat Re’eh’s opening verse can be understood if it’s read slightly differently. The word “I” (anochi) represents the ego. The verse could be read homiletically as saying, “See, the ego that I placed within you today, can be used as a blessing or a curse.” This interpretation by the Ba’al Shem Tov implies that the ego stands between a person and G‑d. When left unchecked, the ego can come between one’s relationships with G‑d and others. In this sense, the ego can be a curse. When contained and channeled appropriately, however, the ego can be a tool to assist one to actualize goals. When utilized for good, the ego becomes a blessing.

Every word of the Torah is intentional and significant. “See, I put before you this day a blessing and a curse.” Moses said these words thousands of years ago, yet you’re reading them now. They are speaking to each of us right now.

Be ever mindful that today’s choices can ultimately bring about a blessing or a curse. How you choose to “see” yourself and your circumstances can reveal a blessing or conceal it. And what you “see” today is up to you.

Choose to enrich your day and yourself with the Torah’s teachings. You’ll be “living with the times,” the very best of times.

Making It Relevant

  1. How can you choose to see your life with a “positive eye,” just for today? What are practical steps you could take to achieve this goal?
  2. Be mindful that G‑d’s commandments are specifically designed to produce good, even if our eyes can’t perceive it now. Remember, the trees that look dead in the winter are really just preparing to blossom in the future.
  3. Read the Torah portion. Find at least one lesson and incorporate it to “live with the times.”