When one stands too close to Claude Monet’s painting, “The Reims Cathedral,” it is difficult to discern the image, but when one steps back a few feet, the artist’s design emerges.
Our lives can be masterpieces but when we are too close in time to the experiences we undergo, we may not understand their meaning. Only the passage of time provides the perspective to discern the patterns in our lives with hindsight, we can interpret what has happened to us either as a blessing or a curse.
In Bechukotai, the Torah paints two pictures. One delineates a sunny world of abundance, good health and peace as rewards for obedience to God’s commandments; the other, a dark world of hunger, disease and insecurity as punishments for disobedience. But perhaps there is a curse in a completely sunny world. If only wonderful things happen to us, we may not develop the strength to face adversity. And perhaps the blessing of wisdom can be found during the dark periods of our lives. The playwright John Patrick wrote, “Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.”
A folktale illustrates that we never know at the time of an event whether it is good or bad. Once, an old man relied on his strong son to support them both. One day, a magnificent, wild stallion unexpectedly trotted into their stable. The son closed the gate quickly. Neighbors stopped to see the horse and said, “What a blessing has come to you! You can sell the horse for a high price.” The old man confounded his neighbors when he said, “Perhaps it’s a blessing. Perhaps it’s a curse. Only time will tell.”
Three days later, the horse jumped over the fence and was gone. Neighbors came again to comfort the old man for losing such a valuable horse. The old man said, “Perhaps it’s a blessing. Perhaps it’s a curse. Only time will tell.” A week later, the stallion returned with a herd of wild horses and led them into the corral. Neighbors came again to congratulate the old man for such a wonderful turn of fortune. Again the old man said, “Perhaps it’s a blessing. Perhaps it’s a curse. Only time will tell.”
The next day, the son was trying to break in one of the new horses and was thrown. His leg was shattered in two places. The village doctor, who fitted a tight brace around the son’s leg, was hopeful that the young man would walk again. “But,” he said, “it will require many months of healing and rest.” This was, of course, bad news for the old man. Without his son’s help, what would he be able to do? The neighbors came by to comfort the father. Again he said, “Perhaps it’s a blessing. Perhaps it’s a curse. Only time will tell.”
Later, soldiers rode into the village. They were conscripting every young man to fight but the invalid son was not taken. Not one of those young men returned alive from the war. The son eventually regained his health and was able again to help his father.
The wise father often said to his son, “We never know whether a thing is a blessing or a curse until the story is finished.”
Rarely is it clear at the time of an event if is a blessing or a curse. Some events seem graced with light but then turn dark. Some events seem like losses, but from them, some blessings will flow. You just never know.
Rabbi Fred V. Davidow is the chaplain at Glendale Uptown Home. Email him at: [email protected] .