After predicting that Bnei Yisrael will turn away from G-d and be punished and exiled, Moshe Rabbeinu says that will eventually hit such a low point that they will mend their ways. After hitting rock bottom, Bnei Yisrael will repent, and Hashem will return them to their land.
Yet, in introducing this turn of events, Moshe adds a word that seems to run counter to his message: “When all these things befall you, the blessing and the curse that I have set before you, and you take them to heart…and you will return to the Lord your G-d…” (Devarim 30:1-2). From the context of this pasuk, it seems that curses will cause Bnei Yisrael to repent, not blessings. Why, then, did Moshe sneak in the word “blessing”?
The Ktav Sofer suggests that a deep psychological insight is alluded to in this pasuk. The impact of the curse, he says, will be amplified by the fact that Bnei Yisrael previously experienced blessing. Pain and suffering are intensified when they are preceded by joy and comfort. Hence, the focus of the pasuk is the curse, but to magnify the blow of the curse, the previous blessing is referenced.
In a more hopeful explanation, the Ohr HaChaim suggests that the pasuk is presenting alternative options that lead to repentance. Ideally, we should improve our ways during times of blessing. But if we don’t, we will have to repent after experiencing curses.
The Ohr HaChaim presents another answer, which carries deep theological implications. The Mishnah (Berachot 9:5) states that a person should bless the bad just as he blesses the good. Rava explains (Berachot 60b) that both blessings should be said with contentment. Based on this statement, the Ohr HaChaim suggests that when Moshe lumped blessings and curses together, he did so to teach us the Mishnah’s dictum. The Malbim adds that the curse is a gift, just like the blessing, in that it functions to bring Bnei Yisrael to repent and create the optimal spiritual life in Israel.
Applying this concept practically can be complicated. If someone is experiencing intense pain, whether physical or emotional, it is rarely appropriate or helpful to bluntly suggest that he view the situation as a blessing. Yet, if a person can work on seeing his anguish in a more positive light – whether through his own introspection or with the help and support of a close friend or therapist – there can be tremendous spiritual and psychological benefits.
In the psychological literature, experiencing positive effects after traumatic events is often referred to as posttraumatic growth or benefit finding. The ability to find benefits within suffering has been shown to have positive impacts for people who have survived traumatic events such as cancer, violence, sexual assault, natural disasters, and chronic pain.
Internalizing this message can be incredibly difficult and sometimes just as painful and arduous as the actual suffering. Yet, there are important spiritual and psychological benefits to be had if we can see the blessing within a curse. Ideally, we hope to not have to be confronted with such challenges. May we be blessed with a year of only positive during which our greatest test should be to see the blessing within a blessing.