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Blessed are your comings and your goings

In this reflection we explore rabbinic thought patterns and the insights of Jewish commentators concerning a single verse of Scripture:

“Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings” (Deut. 28:6).

Intrigued by this text and its bounty of meanings, the sages of old saw something odd about this verse. Surely, they reasoned, the word order should be reversed. On a typical day, a person is seen going out from home and only later coming back in. The text should read, "Blessed shall you be in your goings and your comings". Yet instead it refers to 'comings and goings' (in that order). What is the Torah saying through this choice of wording? Ponder this with a friend. How do you reply?

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yohana interprets our verse like this: “Just as your coming into this world was without sin, so be your going out of the world without sin.”[1] In other words, the blessings relate to the experience of birth and death, entering and departing the world.

Convinced? Not all the sages are. Yes, the explanation might hold in the case of an individual, but this text is addressed to a whole nation.

Astruc offers an alternative view.[2] In blessing the people, Moses was assuring them of divine guidance as they entered, 'came into', the promised land. But he was also reassuring them that this blessing would never leave them. Even if they sinned and 'went out' (were exiled) from the land as a result of sin, the Lord would never abandon them. The covenant would remain. Do you find this view more plausible?

Yet even Astruc’s creative interpretation poses difficulties for the attentive reader. Look at the context of this verse. The blessings listed have a concrete, material quality to them. They are about finding comfort in plentiful crops, a safe home, a healthy family. Thus the Midrash [3] may offer a better explanation: our verse refers to a person’s daily business affairs — “your coming in for business and your going out for business” —or one’s worldly affairs in general.

Wait a minute! Is the Torah suggesting a crass ‘God will make you rich’ theology’? No. Listen to what the Ha’amek Davar has to say:

“You will be blessed in all these material things when you go into them and leave them. They will not defile or seduce you; but the blessing of the Lord will stand by you to enable you to overcome all temptation.” [4]

So then, the blessing is not wealth, but virtue. As you strive to be faithful, the Lord will help you to be faithful, even amidst those worldly dealings which can threaten to distract you from your focus on the Lord. For the Lord has made you a holy people, and your relationship with God permeates every moment of your life.

Note the variety of interpretations arising from a single verse of Torah. In fact, Jewish tradition speaks of the "seventy faces of Torah". No one interpretation can exhaust the possibilities of meaning to be found in the sacred text, for the word of God has infinite depths.

Where is your own voice in this conversation? On what points do you agree or disagree with the sages? Can you appreciate the lively spirit of debate by which Jewish interpreters sharpen their approach as they engage with the text ?

Prayerfully, and creatively attentive to the text, what insights can you discover? •

1.Bava Mezia, 107.

2. Solomon Astruc, late 14th c. Spain.

3. Midrash Devarim, VII, 5.

4. Ha’amek Davar is a commentary by a Torah scholar of Belarus known as the Netziv (1817-1893).

Bibliography: Eskenazi and Weiss, eds., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York, 2008); Freedman and Simon, eds., Midrash Rabbah (London/New York, 1983); Leibowitz, New Studies in Devarim (New York: Lambda, 1996); Scripture: NJPS.

© Teresa Pirola, 2013. Reproduction for non-commercial use permitted with acknowledgement of website.


Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry based in the Catholic community in Australia, encouraging Christians to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures with the help of insights from Jewish tradition. More... The reflection above refers to Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8), the Torah portion read for this Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle. Shabbat shalom!

Download the latest version of the (free) Jewish and Christian Liturgical Calendar, courtesy of Etz Hayim-Tree of Life Publishing.

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