BLESSING THE SEA – ISSUE 18, November 2022 “Curses”

Tzompantli (Platform of the Skulls), Chichen Itza, Yucatan © Lane Igoudin, 2022

“Cursed be the one who leads a blind person astray.
Cursed be the one who subverts the rights of a stranger, orphan, or widow . . .
Cursed be the one who strikes down his fellow man in secret.
And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’.”

Deuteronomy 27

Maybe it’s the darkening skies of the fall, or the attacks, physical (Club Q and Mark Pelosi) and legal (on abortion and other fundamental freedoms we’ve taken for granted). It is as if a sinister, dark wind were sweeping through our psyche and culture as 2022 is drawing to its close.

I recently explored the intersection of darkness and faith in “Out of the Dark Depths,” an essay published in the current issue of Parabola: The Search for Meaning, a popular magazine dedicated to the world’s religious, cultural, and mythological traditions.

In it, I recounted an unexpected spiritual awakening arising from swimming in an underground burial lake, a purported entrance to the underworld in Yucatan.

A curse is like a DarkWeb twin of a prayer. It’s “a calling on G-d, or the gods, to send evil or injury down on some person or thing” (Collins Dictionary), so it too appeals to the mystical and the supernatural.

Chapters 27-28 of Deuteronomy include two lists of devastating curses, which provide a stark contrast with numerous blessings bestowed upon people Israel. Recited every year as part of Torah readings, these curses uphold the ethical laws given to humanity and warn of the dangers of disobeying them.

Moses instructs to deliver these curses on Mt. Ebal, near the site of Shechem, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Israel, and of the present-day Nablus.

So it’s hardly an accident that earlier this year, researchers deciphered a curious inscription on a 3,000-year-old lead tablet found on Mt Ebal.

It contains nothing but curses. Those curses are not Biblical, and quite personal, but still, the chosen location was meant to support their potency.

The Eastern European Jewish tradition, of which I am a product, is rich in superstitions, some of them carried across the ocean to the New World. You know the one about bringing a jar of jam to a housewarming?

The same tradition also produced its own response to curses – a magic spell to ward off the evil eye, yep, the kinehora. Oh, and don’t forget to spit three times over the left shoulder!

I recently came across a curse placed on the Russian president by a Ukrainian oligarch. It calls upon the destroying angels to block G-d’s forgiveness of the subject’s sins. That curse, interestingly, has ancient, Kabbalistic roots.

I’m not into curses. To me, they throw as much a shadow on the person issuing them as on the intended recipient. But how do I hold back the darkness? How do I let go of the obsessive worrying about my country, my kids’ future, or my safety?

I realize that at the root of it all is my fear of the unknown. I try to control something that isn’t here, that isn’t truly within my grasp, and this powerlessness makes me panic. At those times when I acknowledge reality as it is, without clinging to the future outcome (the Zen approach), or when I accept the outcome as decreed and directed by the Lord (a faith-based answer), I am able to let go of this fear.

The darkness lifts. And my peace returns.


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