By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
People who know me know that I cannot remember dates at all. I celebrated my 60th birthday twice because I couldn’t remember what year I was born. But I remember my daughter’s birthday every year.
A little over twenty years ago, my wife was seven months pregnant and on her way to the hospital for her first ultrasound. She was waiting at the bus stop when she was attacked by an Arab with a knife. Through a blatant miracle, my wife’s life and the baby’s were saved. Two months after the near tragedy, still in shock, we brought our baby girl home.
What do you name such a gift from heaven? My wife chose the name Hodaya, meaning ‘thanks to God’. The connection to the miracle that saved her is clear. But we wanted to give her a double name. We looked at the week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, which began:
See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of Hashem your God that I enjoin upon you this day; Deuteronomy 11:26 (The Israel Bible, p. 468)
The answer was clear. God had given us our little blessing, our Hodaya Bracha. He could just as easily have given us a curse. Every year when I read that verse, I remember that God chose to bless me. And despite my quirky memory, I go out and buy a birthday present for my daughter.
But something about the verse is confusing. It says: “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.” Why does it say that God set before the Children of Israel blessing and curse on “this day”, if what the verse is describing didn’t actually occur on that day?
Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes it can be a blessing but sometimes it is a curse. This is why God blessed us with the ability to forget. Forgetting allows us to move forward after a tragedy. It is a heavenly gift, given to us by God so that life will be bearable. I have even gotten angry at my daughter, forgetting that she is a miracle and a blessing. That is how powerful forgetting can be. But it also comes with a risk of forgetting about God.
This is why the Torah uses the phrase “this day” when presenting the blessings and curses. We must remember at all times, today and every day, that God has given us a choice of how to live our lives.
If I could remember all the time, I would always choose blessing and always do God’s commandments. But I am the man who forgets his own birthday. If forgetting is a blessing, I got an extra measure of that blessing. Yet I must try my best to remember that God gave us a choice; blessing or curse.
So much of life is out of our control. But today (and every day) God puts the power to choose between blessing and curse into our hands. We just need to remember to choose wisely.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go buy a birthday present for a very special young lady who is 20 years old today.