However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you. — Deuteronomy 28:15
The Hebrew month of Elul, which means “search,” is a time of intense soul-searching and repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul is also a time to begin the process of asking for forgiveness for wrongs done to others. This is one of 13 devotions on repentance and forgiveness. To learn more about the shofar, which is blown every weekday during Elul¸ download our complimentary Bible study.
Deuteronomy Chapter 28 set before the Israelites — and us — a clear choice between a life of blessings or one of curses. Blessings if we walk obediently with God, and curses if we disregard Him. However, for all the wonderful blessings that we are promised as a reward for following God, there are many more curses presented. In fact, there are 98 curses mentioned in this one particular section alone. Why so many curses than blessings?
The Jewish sages take note that there are exactly 98 curses, not more and not less, and they make two observations based on that number. The first is that the Hebrew letters that represent the number 98 also spell the word tzach which means “to cleanse.” The second observation is that 98 is also the numerical value of the Hebrew word selach, which means “forgiveness.”
Based on these ideas, the sages explain that God did not create all these curses in order to inflict pain on us. Rather, in His infinite mercy and love, God desired to give us a chance to cleanse ourselves of our misdeeds and to ultimately achieve forgiveness for our wrongdoings. The point of these curses – which are any difficulties that we experience in life – is to make us better, not bitter. They are meant to raise us up, not keep us down. Above all, the challenges in our lives are intended to lead us toward a path of repentance, which is also the path toward blessings.
This is why the sages make a hard-to-understand comment on this section of the Bible. They teach that in-between the lines of these curses we can find the source of all blessings and comfort. From the curses, we can ultimately receive tremendous blessings.
In the Jewish tradition, we are taught to make a blessing on the bad and the good that occurs in our lives. This is because, ultimately, everything – even those things that seem bad – are only for our good. When seemingly bad things happen to us, we have the opportunity to transform the experience into an overflowing fountain of blessings in our lives. We are able to cleanse ourselves, attain forgiveness, and become deserving of all that God has to give to us.
Next time an unpleasant event or circumstance presents itself in our lives, we must resist the urge to ask, “Why is my life so bitter?” and instead ask, “How can I make myself better?” In this way we can transform any obstacle into a receptacle and receive God’s incredible blessings into our lives.