The portion we read on this last week of the month of Av begins with a simple, declarative sentence of seven Hebrew words. The first word is a verb in the imperative mode — Re'eh: See.
See. How often do we open our eyes and truly "see"? We live in a world where we are surrounded by wide screens filled with rapidly changing visual images, with constant visual stimulation. Have we lost the ability to see? Are we able to look around a room and see its contours, the way the furniture is arranged, the intentionality or carelessness of its condition? Do we notice the architecture, the structure, the grace of the buildings in which we live or work or walk by every day? Are we able to see the natural world that surrounds us? When did we last look into the eyes of another, and see joy, pain, delight, fear? When did we last look into the mirrors of our own soul to see what is waiting for us there? The Torah asks us to open our eyes — to see.
The text continues with four Hebrew words: Anochi notein l'fanechem hayom: "I have set before you this day." God's name, Anochi, as it appears in this text, is a distinctly singular name of the Holy One, and contrasts to the plural l'fanechem, "you," the people to whom this challenge is addressed. God is speaking to us as individuals who make up the collective people of Israel.
This day, this day on which you are reading these words, this day is unlike any other. Each of us awoke this day that God set before us. Whether we slept soundly or poorly, whether we awoke alone or next to a beloved, whether we were awakened in the night by an unwelcome dream or by the cry or call of another who needed our assistance, each one of us awoke this morning to this day — a day that holds unique promise, unique possibilities. Each day is God's gift to us. How will we accept this gift?
The sixth and seventh Hebrew words, beracha u'klalah, complete this sentence: See, I have set before you blessing and curse. God's gift on this day, on each day, is choice. Every day, God gives us not a day that is fixed, predictable, determined, but a day on which each of us has many, many choices. How do we exercise our choices each day? Getting out of bed is a choice. How did we greet this new day? Did we ask, how will I be in the world today?
The Blessing of This Day
Did we thank God, raising our voices in blessing for having survived the night, for the return of our souls to our bodies? Did we stretch our limbs with thanks for being able to do so? Did we acknowledge that our bodies are miraculous creations that function without our bidding?
Did we rise to praise the source of Creation for enabling us to greet a new day, even when we are burdened by cares or illness or hurt? Did we ask how we might make this day a day of service, a day of meaning, a day of making a difference, however small, in the world? Did we claim the blessing of this day?
Or did we curse the alarm clock, the noises outside that awakened us or the responsibilities that await us? Did we curse ourselves or others for real and imagined wounds and thoughtlessness? Did we curse the light that beckons us to rise from our beds, reminding us of the pain of loss that we fear will never abate?
Each day, we are faced with choice: to open ourselves to the potential for receiving — or being a source of blessing — in the world, or to close our hearts to God's presence, and to follow a path of anger, resentment and self-destruction.
As we conclude the month of Av and turn toward Elul, may each of us open our eyes and our hearts to God's abundant blessings, and, perhaps even on this day, may our deeds reflect the Holy One's kindness, care and generosity.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell is the regional director of the Federation of Reform Synagogues of Greater Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Council of the Union for Reform Judaism.