Hope everyone had a good week.
I had a week reflecting on fantasies and fairy tales. I started watching a series about fantasy creatures and the dystopian world they are fighting to survive in. I believe in fantasies and fairy tales.
To be clear, I don’t believe they’re real, I believe in them. I believe we create them and then treat them as reality. That makes them very powerful. I remember the perfect birthday present I ever received as a little girl was a toy spinning wheel. It had red legs and a brown wheel. I got it as a present at my birthday party where I wore a beautiful dress with a crinoline underneath. My party shoes were black and shiny with a bow and the dress had white beads on it. And though it is one of my best and favourite memories, I’m not sure if any of it is actually real (though my mother confirmed I once got a spinning wheel and seemed to love it – I think she said I slept with it).
I love my fantasy moments because they are created by me, shaped by me and I can revisit them at will. I revisit the first moments I met my newborn children. They were handed to me and birds were singing, the rainbow ended right above us and they smelled so beautifully like my husband and me. Nothing else about the reality of the moment: the medical stuff, the staff rushing around, the lights, the beeping sounds, nothing about all of that enters my blissful fantasy moment.
And, unfortunately, I can easily create my worst nightmare. It will have no limits to the pain, the threat, the unending fear that only I would know how to create for myself, because only I know what will hurt me the most. No theoretical hell to come could surpass what I could put myself through if I built my own personal one and no heaven afterlife could give me the joy of my fantasy moments.
I believe in fairy tales because I know we make them real.
But, they are the definitions of our personal extremes and deep down we know that both of these extremes could never happen. We live our lives between our utopia and our dystopia. Jewishly, we know our minds can take us to our extremes and so the Torah and all of our texts always tell us: ‘choose joy’.
This week’s parshah, Ki Tavo, paints a utopian image of the world if we follow covenant and build the society of values that Judaism outlines. It is pure bliss, health, prosperity and affluence – we will want for nothing. Conversely, if we stray from covenant and betray the core of who we are, the picture of a cursed world that the parshah describes is bone-chilling. Moses splits the people in two and while one half describes the horrific curses, the other half must answer ‘amen’ in agreement. Then we do it again with the blessings.
Yet, the most surprising part of all of this is that both the rewards and punishments are described as implementing in this world. In other words, if we do good, we are not rewarded with a blessed world to come, a wonderful afterlife. On the contrary, we are blessed with a world here that we would want to live in. If we destroy everything we stand for, we are not punished with the eternal fires of hell – we are punished by having to live in the hell we created.
The parshah outlines both a utopia and dystopia and neither one is real. They are the extremes we have the power to create in our lives with the choices we make.
I used to be afraid of the pictures painted in this week’s parshah. Would God really deliver the hell that is described? But then I realized we don’t need God to do it, we’ve done pretty good all by ourselves throughout history. But equally powerful is the reality of the blessings we can create and the world it would bring.
God created the world we live in but we work with God to continue as partners. We are instrumental in renewing creation every day that we live. We learned that in this week’s parshah, we heard it, we understand it and we answered amen.