The Jewish people are presented with a stark choice – prosperity or destruction. In the opening words of the sedra of “Re’eh”, Moses tells the people that they can control their own fate. If they listen to G-d’s commandments the consequence will be a blessing, but if they do not they will be cursed.
The sentiment seems straightforward; the parallelism between blessing on the one hand and curse on the other is clear. However, a closer inspection of the original Hebrew texts reveals some anomalies. For instance, the blessings will come “asher” – “when” you listen to the commandments but the curses are introduced with a different word – they will come “im” – “if” you do not.
In addition, the curses will occur not only if you “do not listen to the commandments” – the complementary opposite of the “if you listen to the commandments” that is said in relation to the blessings - but additionally if you “deviate from the way in which I command you to go”, a phrase which has no parallel regarding blessings.
Nachmanides explains that G-d is not offering a choice of blessings or curses themselves, but rather a choice of two different directions – the road to blessings or a road to curses.
With this understanding we can see why the Torah says “if you do not listen to the commandments and deviate from the way in which I command you to go”. One who refrains from following G-d’s command has not only lost a reward for the mitzvot that they have failed to perform, but they have lost much more as well. They are no longer moving in the direction of a blessing.
But why then, do we not read that blessings come to those who listen to the commandments and who “stay in the way which I command you to go” which would match the wording of the curses? Because there is a crucial difference between the journey to blessing and the journey to a curse.
Failing to keep the mitzvot does not itself immediately generate a curse – that is why it is introduced by the word “im” – “if”. It only takes one away from the correct path and leads one in the wrong direction.
But keeping the mitzvot does not just lead to a blessing – it is a blessing itself!. The Torah says “asher” – “when you perform the mitzvot” because mitzvot immediately bring lead one straight to the goal. The Torah does not need to say that one who listens to the commandments is on the right road, because with just one mitzvah, they have already reached their destination.
Jewish schools lead thousands of children and their families along journeys. Some may travel great distances along their own Jewish journey and some may, seemingly, only move a short way. But in fact, anyone who has embarked on the road of Jewish education and who has brought more meaningful Jewish practice and Jewish study into their lives, has already reached their own blessing.