Beyond Blessings and Curses
About 10 years ago, a company that produces plant based meat products, Beyond Meat, began producing "Chicken-Free Strips" thus placing itself securely in the marketplace to offer delicious, environmentally responsible, and economical meat alternatives. Since then, the company successfully makes an entire menu of meat products, becoming a publicly traded company that is seen in virtually every grocery market in the country. The concept behind Beyond Meat is that there is a "better" way to source and consume foods than the way we have historically thought.
Its rival, or partner, called Impossible Foods, has the same ambitious goal of producing better foods and points out that plant based proteins are "the most effective way to reduce [our] environmental footprint."
Impossible. Beyond. The irony of their names is as profound as their ambitions. They've achieved the 'impossible' and reached 'beyond' our wildest imaginations yet. We learn one of the most potent and impactful lessons of our time: the way things were does not have to be the way things will be.
This message is at the core of the Israelite story too. We are the descendants of Abraham, the ones who saw the world as it was and discovered there was a singular source of power and blessing in the universe. We are the children of Jacob, who endured generations of slavery and became the models of a civilization built upon the ethics of human dignity and social responsibility. The national anthem of the modern State of Israel, "The Hope," is a promise that the humble striving toward brighter futures is never lost.
This message of eternal hope is evident in the words from the Torah we read this week, a section absent any questions. True, we are exposed to some emotionally shuddering and quite graphic proclamations of curses for disobedience of the new codes of law the people are commanded to follow. There certainly are blessings for our faithful observance too. But, in between the laws and the consequences for our behavior is a ritual that transcends blessing and curse and best defines a world of eternal hope.
When we bring the bounty of our produce and offer it in gratitude, we rehearse a narrative, a history. Coincidentally they are the same words we read in the Passover Seder ("My father was a wandering Aramean," Deut. 26:5) We then sit and enjoy the fruit of our labors with others, here the Levite and the stranger (Deut. 26:11). The great 12th century commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra noted, we share our bounty with the stranger to "cheer them up." In other words, this isn't about obedience or consequence. It's about making the experience of life a little better.
Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods were formed to thwart the curses of a blighted earth devoid of essential resources to sustain human communities. They are successful because they make the world a little better. (Some people, myself included, think it's tastier too!)
Advances in medicine, technologies, and social services will always respond to the ever-looming dangers of unchecked human action. We are at our best, though, not when we create and discover under threat of punishment or the reward of abundance. This ancient ritual reminds us that our gratitude for what we've been given compels us to share with others and lift us all up and create something a little better for us all.