This week’s sidrah contains curses, which are read in the synagogue in a whisper, and blessings, which are read out loud. All of the ancient Israelites were gathered together and the curses and blessings were read on two separate mountain tops, signifying the distance between a blessed and a cursed life. Which call will you answer?
The Levites read the curses from Mount Ebal. They contain standard problems in faith communities: idol worship, subversion of social justice, illicit sexual relations, violence, perversion of justice and the failure to uphold a covenant. Had we closed our eyes and written them ourselves, we may have come up with a comparable list. Why then is the seemingly insignificant curse offered to one who moves his fellow landowner’s boundary marker? It seems out of place in the drama of this public moment of ultimate reckoning.
If you examine all of the curses together, they direct the listener to boundaries: financial boundaries, social boundaries, religious boundaries and civic boundaries. The Hebrew word for sin means to miss the mark. We sin when we traverse accepted boundaries of behaviour. To transgress contains that meaning.
We are “Ivri’im” — a people who traverse. To be a Hebrew in the semantic meaning of the word is to be someone who travels across land. Abraham crossed from one land to another. We crossed the Reed Sea and the Jordan. Those who traverse have to be particularly careful about transgressing accepted lines. What boundaries must we cross to become a nation and what boundaries do we cross at the risk of peril? Moses warns us not to cross the line. Cursed is the one who cannot respect boundaries.