My poetry collection BLESSINGS AND CURSES was born out of a wish to make poetry out of everyday life—mine and other people’s. I no longer remember whether the first poem I wrote in the series was a Blessing or a Curse.

The subsequent Blessings and Curses are numbered in consecutive order of their composition. At the outset I didn’t intend to make a series, but suddenly there it was. With each poem, I asked myself, Is this a Blessing or a Curse?

As long as I could answer, I could keep the series going. It may sound strange, but there were times when I wasn’t quite sure if the poem in question was a Blessing or a Curse, even though I knew it was one thing or the other. In other words, some of the Blessings are decidedly mixed, and some of the Curses have silver linings.

I had been writing the series for about a year when I wrote what became the title poem. I grew up in Reform Judaism, where the parasha Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:19) is substituted for the traditional parasha at the Yom Kippur service, and I am in agreement with the rabbis and teachers who see Nitzavim as a key Jewish text. It also happened that Nitzavim was to be my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah parasha, traditionally read the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. In the months of preparation before the Bat Mitzvah, we all had the opportunity to reflect on this parasha’s meanings, and out of these reflections, the poem was born.

To me it seems significant that God asked Moses to make His teachings into a song. In other words, God’s words were translated into human art—to make them more memorable perhaps? more meaningful? more acceptable?

The Torah tells us that this song came to Moses instantly. What artist doesn’t wish for perfect ease of creation? I haven’t experienced it often, but when I have, it is a compensation for when creation is laborious and difficult.

The title poem expresses the religious ideals I grew up with and the traditional belief that art is divinely inspired. God’s message is the power of human beings to choose good over evil and stresses the importance of intentions, good behavior and proper speech over worship that is symbolic display. This emphasis has always been and continues to be one of my favorite qualities of Judaism.

Here is the poem:


At the end of the Torah,
God appears to Moses
and tells him his life is over.
He will see the Promised Land
but not set foot in it.
Like his brother Aaron before him,
he will ascend the mountain and die,
but first he must address his people one last time.

Moses says to his people,
It is up to you to obey God’s commandments.
This is more important to God
than ritual acts of sacrifice.
You must look into your hearts
and choose the words from your mouths.

Through Moses, God speaks directly,
“I call heaven and earth
to witness against you this day
that I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse;
therefore choose life, that you may live,
you and your seed.”

Afterwards, God returns
when Moses is alone.
He predicts, after Moses is dead,
His people will betray Him.
They will turn to false gods,
and He will punish them.
God asks Moses to compose a song
to remind the people of their obligations,
which Moses does instantly
and sings it to them,
enumerating God’s blessings and curses.

Moses is as mysterious
in death as in life.
He died on Mount Nebo,
at the summit of Pisgah,
and was buried below
on the steppes of Moab,
but no one knows his grave.
The Torah tells us, absolutely,
Moses is the greatest leader
the Jewish people ever had.
Not since Moses has God
appeared face-to-face to any human being.

When Moses died, he left us
with God’s blessings and curses
falling on us equally.
This is the life we are given.